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As case numbers climb throughout April, Marion County joins 14 other Oregon counties moving to extreme risk classification for COVID-19.

COURTESY OF MARION COUNTY - Marion County Public Health Director Katrina Rothenberger apprised the county's Board of Commissioners on the latest extreme-risk classification for COVID-19 protocol.Marion County is one of the 15 counties scheduled to move into the extreme risk category for COVID-19 protocol on Friday, April 30.

But the good news in northern Marion County is that the test-positive numbers are much improved from where they were early on in the pandemic.

With COVID-19 cases increasing considerably over the past several weeks and hospitalization numbers reaching up toward the 300 threshold, Gov. Kate Brown's office announced Tuesday, April 27, that 15 Oregon counties will be classified as high risk from Friday, April 30, through May 6: Baker Clackamas, Columbia, Crook, Deschutes, Grant, Jackson, Josephine, Klamath, Lane, Linn, Marion, Multnomah, Polk and Wasco.

All counties had been classified as high risk previously, save Grant County, which jumped from lower risk to extreme risk.

"This means that restaurants and bars must close their indoor dining, and gyms and indoor entertainment will significantly reduce capacity, and social gatherings are encouraged to be restricted," Marion County Public Health Director Kristina Rothenberger said Wednesday, April 28.

"The outdoor capacity for bars and restaurants will increase to 100 people," she added. "Counties will stay in the (the classification) a maximum of three weeks and will be able to move to a lower risk level sooner if the COVID-19 rates are brought down, and the data will be reviewed weekly now instead of every two weeks."

The elevated risk level change comes following a surge in positive tests statewide over the past few weeks.

"If we don't act now, doctors, nurses, hospitals, and other health care providers in Oregon will be stretched to their limits treating severe cases of COVID-19," Brown said in a statement issued Tuesday. "Today's announcement will save lives and help stop COVID-19 hospitalizations from spiking even higher. With new COVID-19 variants widespread in so many of our communities, it will take all of us working together to bring this back under control." PMG FILE PHOTO - Oregon Gov. Kate Brown at a previous COVID-19 press conference., Portland Tribune - News The 15 counties will move into the Extreme Risk category for at least trhee weeks on Friday, April 30. COVID-19 restrictions imposed on 15 Oregon counties, including Marion County.

Rothenberger said the bulk of Marion County's cases have been coming from the central Salem, northeast Salem, Brooks and Keizer ZIP codes, a changed complexion from what it was last year when Woodburn and Gervais were recording the county's highest levels.

"In the early days of the pandemic, Woodburn and North Marion County was our hot spot, but their incident rate has declined and been consistently lower than these other ZIP codes, which is great," Rothenberger told the county Board of Commissioners on Wednesday.

According to the Marion County COVID-19 status dashboard, the number of daily test positive cases in Marion County numbered in the 100s through much of December and January, before tapering off in late January and February, dipping to a low of 15 cases on March 28.

But throughout April the trend has climbed steadily, reaching 120 cases on April 23. Wednesday, April 28, the county recorded 103 cases.

Statewide trends mirror county numbers: Oregon Health Authority reported 178 new cases on March 22; a month later on April 23 the number was 1,020.

For the week of April 21-27, central Salem recorded 120 new cases, followed by Keizer, 93 and Brooks, 85. Woodburn had 37 within its 97071 ZIP code. Other north county areas showed Gervais with 13, Aurora 7, St. Paul 5, Mount Angel and Hubbard with 4 each and one case in Donald.

Meanwhile, public health officials continue to emphasize adhering to all the ongoing safety measures, frequent hand washing, wearing masks, social distancing and getting vaccines when available.

"Oregon has now administered 1.7 million doses of the vaccine, and almost 1.2 million are fully vaccinated," Rothenberger said. "In Marion County more than 121,000 residents have received at least one dose of the vaccine, and over 86,000 people are fully vaccinated."

County health officials encourage people to call 211, visit the MCPH website or check with Salem Health for information on vaccines. Hopes are that they will soon be available through primary care providers as well.

"I really want to encourage the young folks in our community to be vaccinated," Rothenberger stressed. "We've seen an increase since January the highest case counts are in folks between the ages of 20 and 29. And then the second highest age group is between 30 and 39, and then 40 to 49.

"So please do your part and get a vaccine. That's the best way to protect yourself and your friends and family from the virus. Once enough of us are vaccinated we'll be able to resume all the fun stuff that we've missed and want to enjoy again."

Meanwhile, the county commissioners expressed dismay over extreme-risk classification and the recent round of closures.

"To shut down our businesses one more time — these people are going to get laid off," Commissioner Kevin Cameron said. "I did confirm for anybody who gets laid off, the unemployment waiting week, because of the emergency, is still not (in place). So you can get your unemployment.

"But for employees that are getting laid off, back and forth, back and forth, and the employers that are trying to get reopened, it's just really a struggle. And I also understand that we don't want to overrun our hospitals. Our capacity here, if you talk to Salem Health and our hospitals in the area, we are good to go," he added.

Commissioner Danielle Bethell was a little more heavy handed about the closures.

"It's absolutely ridiculous that we are going into this, and we are only forcing businesses who are, in fact, not spreading this virus and, in fact, are not the ones who are creating people to get sick to close. It's completely absurd," she said.

The governor's office reported that it is partnering with legislators on a $20 million emergency relief package to provide immediate aid to impacted businesses in extreme risk counties through the state's commercial rent relief program.

"After conversations with legislative leaders, I am confident we can move quickly to bring relief to businesses and their employees in extreme risk counties," Brown said. "The vast majority of Oregon businesses have followed our health and safety guidance to protect Oregonians from COVID-19, even though doing so has come with an economic cost. This emergency aid will help businesses in extreme risk counties."

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