Clackamas County puts brakes on Phase 2 reopening
Clackamas County commissioners will continue to hold off on asking Gov. Kate Brown to reconsider their application for Phase 2 reopening until the county meets all six criteria set by the state in order to qualify.
At their meeting Tuesday, July 14, commissioners heard another update on COVID-19 infection numbers, which show the county is still not meeting on three separate indicators: a downward trend in percent of positive tests over last seven days (upward), percent increase in new cases over last seven days lower than 5% (29%) and percent of cases not traced to a known source over the last seven days lower than 30% (47%).
As of Tuesday, Clackamas County has 1,006 positive cases of COVID-19, up 81 from Friday, July 10; 28 deaths, up one; and a total of 28,063 negative tests.
Commissioners expressed fear that Brown's July 13 announcement — requiring facemasks outdoors when social distancing isn't possible and restricting indoor gatherings to 10 people — indicates she could be preparing to rollback reopening all together statewide. Similar steps have been taken in California and Nevada in recent days.
"My big concern is how we prepare our public for potentially moving backward and the importance of social distancing," Commissioner Sonya Fischer said.
The board was in general agreement over the fact that they would wait until all six indicators were fulfilled to request Brown and the Oregon Health Authority reconsider the county's Phase 2 reopening application, which was submitted back in June, but was put off by the state due to a 21-day moratorium on all reopening for metro counties which expired last Friday, July 10.
But Commissioner Paul Savas said he's frustrated over the fact the state continues to group Clackamas County's performance on reopening criteria to its metro neighbors — a sentiment shared by most of the board as well as their counterparts in Washington County.
"I think it's important to point out that our numbers have really, for the most part, been pretty flat," Savas said. "And we're not spiking, and our numbers are strikingly different from our neighboring counties."
Chair Jim Bernard disagreed.
"Our numbers are not flat. They are rising," Bernard said. "I am absolutely willing to ask to decouple the minute that it looks like we're sustaining low numbers for seven days."
Savas pointed out that no county in the state currently in Phase 2 was required to meet all six indicators 100% before receiving state approval, a point of consternation also often expressed by members of the board.
"I would point out that when we asked to apply for Phase 2, we were meeting four of the six requirements. Now we're only meeting three," Commissioner Ken Humberston said. "So it doesn't give us much of a statistical leg to stand on."
Humberston said he would like to aggressively focus the board's efforts and political sway to get money for those Clackamas County residents and businesses that are still hurting from the negative economic effects caused by the pandemic.
"We have yet to get our share of the CARES Act money to help those people, let alone the unemployment department getting its act together and getting people who for months have been waiting around for unemployment and still haven't got it," Humberston said. "If there's anything that we can do that will help people, it would be to get them the financial assistance they need to survive, economically, until we do break the curves. But I think we would be better served aggressively pursuing these funding aspects to help those who are hurting."
Commissioner Martha Schrader said that she felt the board had already made it's position clear to the governor, but that perhaps these requests were falling on deaf ears.
"What I worry about the most is the consistency of policy across the board," she said. "I can understand why we aren't going into Phase 2, but why aren't OHA, the governor and all these other folks looking at these metrics saying, sorry folks, you have to drop back to Phase 1."
According to Nancy Bush, incident commander with the county's emergency operations center, only Union County has rolled back into Phase 1 reopening, and did so voluntarily.
Fischer said, "We probably don't need to send a letter, because we already sent one asking to be decoupled and for the governor to open us up when she's ready. I don't think we need to ask again. We would be much better to ask in a very strategic way for a direct allocation of dollars."
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