When it comes to COVID-19, a Phase I reopening is not the same as a graduation.
Marion County Commissioner Kevin Cameron offered that apt analogy during the May 27 Board of Commissioners meeting; apt in that graduation season for the classes of 2020 is coinciding with a limited return to normal operations.
But there's a reason it's limited.
Cameron said when Gov. Kate Brown announced May 20 that the county qualified for the Phase I step, which was activated May 22, it felt similar to celebrating a graduation. But then he cautioned that it's more like finishing up freshman year.
Much of that perspective was reflected in a report from Katrina Rothenberger, the county's Public Health Division Director for Health and Human Services. There were glimpses of good news framed with a considerable dose of caution, and a bit of uneasiness.
As of May 28, Marion County reported a total of 931 COVID-19 cases; 914 positive tests and the balance classified as presumptive cases. A total of 9,978 county residents had been tested, and there have been 25 deaths.
"Our seven-day case count is an encouraging trend with only 37 cases," Rothenberger told the commission. "We haven't seen a day where we've climbed over 10 cases."
But the seven-day trend ended that same day as the Oregon Health Authority reported that Marion County had 11 cases out of the statewide 49 reported Thursday, May 28, and another 11 county cases the following day.
"Now is really the time when we still continue to build capacity, should we need to respond to any increases in the future or even this winter during flu season," Rothenberger said.
The county has been ratcheting up its efforts and capabilities in contact tracing for the virus, added personnel and assigned a coordinator to work specifically with the agricultural community. All of which helped to gain the partial opening status, along with the safety precautions implemented during the shutdown.
Easing off the latter is a concern.
Commissioner Sam Brentano asked Rothenberger what her "litmus test" was for how well the county will fare as the reopening continues to unfold.
"I'm really waiting to reserve any assumptions until a week or two post opening," Rothenberger said. "The incubation period for COVID is between 2 and 14 days. So I expect in a week or two, if any trends emerge, it will be then.
"But just out in public, I've noticed there are a lot of people out and about without wearing masks. A couple of weeks ago there (appeared to be) a lot more folks wearing masks at the grocery store," she said. "If I had to guess, we might see a few more cases in a couple of weeks."
"I hope not, but that's what I have been thinking, too," he said.
Cameron lauded the strides the county has made with some of its most vulnerable populations.
"We haven't had any outbreaks in any of our senior facilities, lately," Cameron said. "So we've gotten that in better control. But that's not to say we're not going to have some of those in the future. Those are our most vulnerable when it comes to hospitalization and potential life threatening."
He also noted that the safety strides made in the agricultural community are vital, especially as the growing and harvest seasons will see more workers coming through the region.
On Friday the governor's office announced a $30 million investment to protect agricultural workers. State agencies, farmers and farmworker advocates collaborated on the funding proposal to deploy rapid support and resources to Oregon's agricultural producers to meet harvest demands and to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.
"Oregon's agricultural workers are on the frontlines during this COVID-19 crisis, working to provide food for Oregon families," Brown said. "This investment will bring essential resources to agricultural producers and farmworkers, providing critical resources to keep workers safe and mitigate COVID-19 outbreaks while protecting the food supply chain."
Marion County is the state's top agricultural producer in terms of commerce.
The Phase I benchmark, or Cameron's freshman year status, will be in place for at least 21 days. Overall, the hope is that Marion County comes through its "sophomore year" of this process with good grades and can advance to phases allowing for more activity.
Much of that success will depend on maintaining previous lessons.
"As we enter into our Phase I reopening, it's still really important to engage in those healthy behaviors of washing our hands frequently, wearing a mask when we are out in public, and continuing to social distance," Rothenberger said. "Especially if you are part of one of those high-risk groups. It's still important that you are making essential trips only.
"It is really exciting that we are able to go and enjoy some of the things that we've been missing for the past several months. I just hope that everyone continues to do that safely and is mindful of those around them with the 6-feet social distancing and wearing a mask in public."
Marion County's new COVID-19 cases from May 14-27
97310: Oregon State Penitentiary, 50
97071: Woodburn, 27
97305: NE Salem, Brooks, 16
97301: Central Salem, 14
97302: South Salem, 11
97303: Keizer, 10
97317: SE Salem, 10
97026: Gervais, 8
97306: South Salem, Sunnyside, 8
97032: Hubbard, 6
97383: Stayton, 5
97381: Silverton, 4
97362: Mt. Angel, 2
97325: Aumsville, 1
— Marion County COVID-19 status dashboard
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