Oregon Counties Move to ‘Extreme Risk’ COVID Restrictions

These extreme risk counties must shut down indoor dining in restaurants and bars and severely curtail the number of patrons to no more than six in gyms, movie theaters, bowling alleys and indoor swimming pools.

A printed sign in a window that reads "Closed due to COVID-19. Tentative opening May 6th."
(TNS) - A total of 15 counties — including a large swath of the Portland area but not Washington County — will move to “extreme risk” COVID-19 restrictions starting Friday, the governor’s office said.

These extreme risk counties must shutdown indoor dining in restaurants and bars and severely curtail the number of patrons to no more than six in gyms, movie theaters, bowling alleys and indoor swimming pools. Indoor visits at long-term care facilities will also be prohibited except under certain circumstances. The full list of restrictions is available here.

The affected counties are: Baker, Clackamas, Columbia, Crook, Deschutes, Grant, Jackson, Josephine, Klamath, Lane, Linn, Marion, Multnomah, Polk and Wasco, according to a news release from the governor’s office Tuesday.

Many of these counties already would have shifted to extreme risk, but Brown on April 6 made it tougher for that to happen by adding new requirements that statewide hospitalizations first must reach 300 or more patients and the seven-day average of patients must increase by at least 15%. Monday, hospitalizations soared past 300 to 319, representing a 37% rise.

Counties will be in extreme risk for a “maximum” of three weeks, according to the governor’s office. If cases, positivity rates and hospitalizations continue to rise after that, the Oregon Health Authority will “evaluate why and make recommendations” to the governor about how to proceed.

The governor’s office said counties could shift to a lower risk level and fewer restrictions after just one week if cases drop or statewide hospitalizations dip below 300 or don’t continue to accelerate at 15% or more each week.

“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. “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.”

Becky Hultberg, president of the Oregon Association of Hospitals and Health Systems, said she is “confident” hospitals can manage the current surge and hospitals will continue non-urgent procedures. But Hultberg also said the association supports the governor “making tough choices to control the virus.”

“We can’t let our guard down now,” Hultberg said in a written statement.

Brown said she is working with legislators to push for the passage of a $20 million “emergency relief package” to help businesses in extreme risk counties with commercial rent relief.

“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,” Brown said in her statement. “This emergency aid will help businesses in Extreme Risk counties.”

Another measure Brown is taking is loosening restrictions for bars, restaurants and “other sectors” that operate outdoors by lifting a 50-person outdoor limit to 100 people, with physical distancing. That’s in recognition that the coronavirus is much less likely to spread outdoors compared to indoors.

Last week, Oregon Healthy Authority officials said they believe the more contagious B.1.1.7 variant, first detected in the United Kingdom, is now the dominant strain in Oregon, making up a majority of cases. Officials say that as well as human behavior has been leading to Oregon’s soaring rates.

As of Tuesday, cases in Oregon are accelerating faster in Oregon than in any other state, a position Oregon also maintained last week, according to The New York Times. New cases have grown in Oregon by about 54% in the past two weeks, compared to a 20% decrease nationwide.

Hospitalizations are up at least 37% to 39%, depending on the source. That compares to a 2% increase nationwide.

The Oregon Health Authority posts criteria for entering its highest restriction category — extreme risk — on its website. Most of the 15 counties made the list because they are classified as “large” counties of more than 30,000 residents with high case rates — more than 200 new infections per 100,000 residents during a recent two-week period that ended Saturday. Counties classified as “medium” or “small” make the list based on overall new cases of 60 or more or positivity rates over 10%, according to the health authority’s website.

Klamath County in southern Oregon led large counties, posting a rate of about 787 cases per 100,000 residents in the past two weeks, while Deschutes County in central Oregon posted a rate of nearly 467 cases.

In the metro area, Clackamas County recorded nearly 245 cases per 100,000 residents while Multnomah County saw 221.

Washington County had 192 cases per 100,000 residents, meaning it will remain at “high risk” and its restaurants and bars will remain open indoors and avoid falling under the more restrictive measures, for now.

The governor said despite this most recent surge, she believes the virus’ spread can be reversed in weeks and the economy can start to fully reopen by the end of June. Modeling by Oregon Health & Science University indicates cases could peak May 4, with hospitalizations following May 19.

“The fastest way to lift health and safety restrictions is for Oregonians to get vaccinated as quickly as possible and follow the safety measures we know stop this virus from spreading,” Brown said.

“But,” she added, “we will only get there if enough Oregonians get vaccinated. There are appointments available right now all across the state.”

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— Aimee Green; agreen@oregonian.com; @o_aimee

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