Clackamas County denied decoupling from metro neighbors
Clackamas County will remain grouped with its metro neighbors in meeting requirements for moving to Phase 2 reopening.
The Clackamas Board of County Commissioners last Thursday, June 18, issued a letter asking Gov. Kate Brown to consider the county's Phase 2 application separately from Multnomah and Washington counties and requesting the state release federal funds to help relieve small business impacted by COVID-19. It also asked her to give some explanation around some of the decisions she's made recently in reopening Oregon counties.
Brown responded a day later acknowledging the application, but reaffirming that she will not consider any Phase 2 application from a metro-area county until the 21-day moratorium ends on July 10.
"Going forward we are grouping Clackamas, Washington and Multnomah counties together as a region for future reopening decisions in recognition of the interconnectedness of the metro area," Brown wrote. "Clackamas County has seen a 46% increase in new cases over the last seven days and has recently experienced the second largest congregate care outbreak in the state. As of today (June 19), there are 98 confirmed cases and nine deaths at the Canby facility. These data show that the work you are doing to build capacity for testing, tracing and isolating new cases will be critical elements as you prepare to move into Phase 2, hopefully on July 10."
Commissioners discussed the governor's response at their meeting on Tuesday, June 23. Commissioners Paul Savas and Ken Humberston both expressed disappointment that Brown's response didn't address several other topics of their original letter, such as the allocation of funding from the federal Coronavirus Aid Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act meant to provide support for small businesses.
Commissioner Martha Schrader said she believes Clackamas County is on an unequal footing with its metro partners due to the fact that the state has not allocated any of those funds to Clackamas, while Multnomah and Washington counties have received them.
"We are combined with the other two counties, but we are not getting the same level of financial support, and that's wrong," she said. "We're being held to a higher bar without the same level of resources."
County Board Chair Jim Bernard said that he's raised the point with Brown on three separate occasions and hasn't seen any movement on the issue.
Humberston pointed out that he has many local business owners coming to him for answers on a daily basis, and that they won't be happy to hear Clackamas County is remaining linked to its metro neighbors.
For Savas, the idea that other counties are being held to different standards than Clackamas and its neighbors in terms of meeting criteria for reopening was worrisome. He moved to issue another letter seeking clarification on some of the points of the county's original letter, but received no support. He said that we would follow up with a letter of his own.
"This is not just about the businesses, it's about getting people back to work because some of them are not doing so well," Savas said. "I understand we need to balance all this, but not having those questions answered and not having clarity, frankly, I don't think it's acceptable."
Commissioner Sonya Fischer expressed an interest in finding out more behind the science of the state's modeling, which shows that if infection numbers continue on their current path, the state of Oregon could see 1,000 new infection cases per day. She also suggested that, for those commissioners interacting with the business community, they help put pressure on Brown to make an allocation of the CARES Act funds so that the county can help local businesses weather the economic storm.
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