Marion County Phase 2 reopening put on pause
Phase 2 reopening in Marion County is on hold for at least another week, the county's Board of Commissioners announced Thursday, June 11.
The county applied for Phase 2 reopening status following the statewide shutdowns to stem the spread of COVID-19 and hoped that would be affirmed by Friday, June 12. But county officials were notified by Gov. Kate Brown's office and the Oregon Health Authority that two of the six criteria in the Phase 2 reopening guidelines had not been met.
Marion County was not alone.
Most counties in Oregon were approved for Phase 1 reopening in May, including Marion County, which began that phase May 22, a week later than many rural Oregon counties.
"When we began reopening nearly a month ago, I was clear that COVID-19 case counts would rise. We now see that happening in several parts of the state, both urban areas and rural communities," Brown said last Thursday. "As I have said before, reopening comes with real risk. As we navigate the reopening, we are carefully monitoring the capacity of our public health system to respond to COVID-19 cases without becoming overwhelmed."
Marion County's positive testing numbers of new COVID-19 cases declined for a while, going a week with single-digit daily counts. But those numbers began increasing the next week, and on Thursday, June 11, the statewide numbers hit a record daily high of 178 cases, 34 of which were reported in Marion County."The noticeable increase in COVID-19 infections in Oregon over the past week is cause for concern," Brown said. "In order to ensure that the virus is not spreading too quickly, I am putting all county applications for further reopening on hold for seven days. This is essentially a statewide 'yellow light.' It is time to press pause for one week before any further reopening."
An OHA report Thursday noted that the reasons for the higher numbers are tied to several factors, including widespread availability of testing, increased contact tracing, and active monitoring of close contacts of cases.
Workplace outbreaks are another source of the high number.
"Higher case counts serve as a reminder that Oregonians need to continue to maintain physical distancing, wear face coverings where physical distancing cannot be maintained, and follow good hand hygiene," an OHA media release stated.
"This one week pause will give public health experts time to assess what factors are driving the spread of the virus and determine if we need to adjust our approach to reopening. I will work with doctors and public health experts to determine whether to lift this pause or extend it or make other adjustments," Brown said. "I want to remind the public that there are very simple precautions each of us should take to reduce the spread of the disease: Avoid large gatherings. Wear a face covering. Stay six feet apart. Wash your hands, cover your cough and stay home when you are sick."
Marion County officials expressed disappointment, but vowed to continue working toward the Phase 2 goal.
"We are disappointed in the governor's decision. The county has worked diligently with our public health team to ensure we are prepared for a safe Phase 2 reopening," Commissioner Colm Willis said. "We will continue this work and are hopeful that our application will be approved as soon as possible."
County officials said they are working in collaboration with county health experts, local leaders and regional public health partners to develop a road map to reopen, and they will continue to evaluate available data to facilitate Phase 2 as soon as possible.
"Of course, we want to see the number of cases falling steadily, but that is an unrealistic expectation," Commissioner Kevin Cameron said. "As more businesses reopen and people are doing more activities outside their homes, some occasional increases are anticipated.
"With the increase in testing throughout the county, we can also expect to see an uptick in known cases," Cameron added. "We are also working closely with farms and food processing facilities to prevent outbreaks in facilities where physical distancing is often a challenge."
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