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Benton, Deschutes, Hood River and Lincoln counties will also move to the more permissive COVID-19 risk category.

PMG PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Players with the Hillsboro Soccer Club wear masks during a scrimmage at 53rd Avenue Community Park in December 2020.Five Oregon counties — including Washington County, the state's second-most populous — will move to the most permissive risk category for the spread of COVID-19 this Friday, May 21.

Gov. Kate Brown announced Tuesday afternoon, May 18, that at least 65% of residents age 16 and older in Benton, Deschutes, Hood River, Lincoln and Washington counties have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, and that those counties have also fulfilled her requirement to submit an "equity plan" to demonstrate how they'll improve vaccination rates among demographics that are lagging behind the general population. Because of that, Brown said, those five counties can move to the "lower risk" designation — clearing the way for larger gatherings and more business activities.

Washington County has been in the "high risk" category because its COVID-19 case counts have been above 100 per 100,000 residents in recent weeks. That limits indoor dining capacity to 25% at most restaurants, limits gymnasiums and other indoor recreation and fitness establishments to quarter-capacity as well, restricts stores to half-occupancy, and puts a 15% cap on the number of spectators at outdoor sporting events, among other restrictions. Residents of "high risk" counties are also asked not to gather in groups larger than eight people, or six people for indoor gatherings.

"Lower risk" significantly relaxes those limits. Indoor dining and exercise are allowed up to 50% of maximum occupancy, stores can welcome up to 75% of their normal maximum occupancy, and outdoor venues like Ron Tonkin Field in Hillsboro can fill up to half of their available seats. Gathering sizes can increase to 10 people indoors or 12 people outdoors.

Businesses under "high risk" are also asked to recommend that employees work remotely when possible. That's not the case under the "lower risk" designation.

The move to "lower risk" is effective this Friday.

Data released earlier Tuesday by the Oregon Health Authority showed Deschutes, Lincoln and Washington counties were a little short of the 65% threshold Brown set earlier this month for COVID-19 restrictions to be relaxed. But Brown said Tuesday afternoon that once the state factored in vaccine doses administered at federal facilities and vaccination events, those three counties cleared the bar.

Multnomah County is also at the 65% threshold, Oregon Health Authority data shows. But the county has not yet submitted an equity plan. Portland-based Willamette Week reported Monday, May 17, that the state's most populous county plans to wait at least one more week before it applies to move to "lower risk."

Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury said last week that it will take time for the county to develop an equity plan and submit it to the Brown administration for approval.

The Oregon Health Authority also issued new guidance Tuesday on face masks. That guidance allows customers who are fully vaccinated to remove their face masks inside businesses that choose to allow them to do so, provided those businesses verify the vaccination status of customers.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced last week that there is no medical need for most fully vaccinated individuals to wear a face mask in most settings, as the COVID-19 vaccines that have been authorized by federal regulators provide very effective protection against the viral illness.

Individuals who have certain medical conditions, such as a suppressed immune system, should continue to wear masks, according to state and federal guidance.

By Mark Miller
Editor-in-Chief, Washington and Columbia counties
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