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With increased infection numbers, commissioners take advice of public health officer to wait another week

Clackamas County's latest COVID-19 infection numbers show it is headed in the wrong direction on two of the six indicators laid out by Gov. Kate Brown to qualify for Phase 2 reopening. FILE PHOTO - The Clackamas Board of County Commissioners

At its Thursday, June 11, meeting, the Board of County Commissioners heeded the advice of their Public Health Officer Dr. Sarah Present and decided to wait at least another week to see how Phase 1 reopening and widespread police violence protests have affected the county's numbers before submitting its application to Brown and the Oregon Health Authority.

County emergency operations incident commander Nancy Bush told the board Thursday that new numbers produced Wednesday showed the percentage of tests resulting positive in the past seven days was up 191% from the previous week. According to the state's criteria for Phase 2 reopening, that percentage increase can be no more than 5%.

Numbers from OHA for the week of May 29 through June 4 show Clackamas County saw 38 new cases.

Last week — June 5-11 — the county saw 98 new cases.

According to Bush, Clackamas County currently has 399 positive cases, 13 deaths and 14,284 negatives.

Dr. Present told commissioners there are few factors playing into the county's increase in cases of infection in recent weeks. One of those is that there is expected spread from the known cases of outbreak, such as the one at Bob's Red Mill in Milwaukie.

Of the 130 new cases in Clackamas County over the past two weeks, Present said, about 20 of those were related to that specific outbreak. According to Present, the company is doing well in following guidance from the county public health division to put control measures in place to prevent spread and halt the outbreak.

Present also noted that another 16 cases were related to an outbreak in a long-term care facility. New facility-wide testing measures put into place has the county public health division expecting an increase in numbers in coming weeks as well.

Present told commissioners that contact tracing has been successful so far in identifying and following community spread of the disease, but there have been a few cases of people refusing to cooperate. In recent days, she said, county contact tracers have worked cases where they needed to contact between 20 and 30 people who had potential contact with a positive case.

"We do have evidence that some people are having group gatherings," she said. "We have some spread from Memorial Day barbecues. We're really encouraging people to limit interactions with high-risk people and try to keep social distancing recommendations and face coverings on."

According to Bush, the county is actively trying to keep up with the public health division's workload by adding 15 new employees in the coming week as they complete orientation and training. Those new hires will aid the county in meeting the state's requirement of ensuring more than 98% of people are contacted within the first 24 hours from a report of a positive case, as well as that outbreaks are identified and controlled as needed.

"This is not over with," said Jim Bernard, county chair. "It would be bad news for this economy if we have to shut down again."

Present told commissioners that while public health experts did expect an increase in cases following Phase 1 reopening, that increase and its impact have yet to be fully realized. She said additional viral spread may stem from protests popping up across the nation in reaction to the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, two black Americans killed in recent weeks at the hands of police.

Commissioners expressed a willingness to wait to see where the numbers stand a week from now, promising to take all factors into consideration before they make a decision about Phase 2 reopening.

They also expressed some confusion as to why other counties — particularly Lane County, which is of similar size to Clackamas — were allowed by state officials to enter Phase 2 reopening when they weren't meeting all six criteria. Commissioner Ken Humberston suggested that Clackamas County should consider applying and let the Oregon Health Authority provide clarity as to whether the county is ready.

Present said she'd leave that decision to the commissioners, but advised that it would be best for her team at the public health division to meet current needs before launching into Phase 2. The commissioners agreed.

Following discussions with Present and Bush, commissioners unanimously approved an addendum to the state of emergency declaration they issued at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic on March 2. The addendum extends the state of emergency until July 31 and can be extended again before its expiration.

Commissioners also gave their approval to County Administrator Gary Schmidt to extend closures of most county buildings until Monday, June 22. According to Schmidt, most county departments are in the process of finalizing social distancing and sanitation requirements to allow the public to enter county facilities again.

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