13 Oregon Counties Improve Their COVID-19 Risk Ranking


Deschutes, Klamath, Lane, Multnomah and Yamhill, which are advancing from high to moderate risk will see looser restrictions on businesses.


Thirteen Oregon counties, including Multnomah County, improved their COVID-19 risk levels in the state’s system that determines how much businesses can reopen when cases decline. 

The changes were announced Tuesday by Gov. Kate Brown, who said they would become effective March 12. The state’s framework relies upon four different risk levels for counties based on their COVID-19 infection rates: extreme risk, high risk, moderate risk and lower risk.

Counties with an “extreme risk” ranking face the most severe restrictions, including a ban on indoor dining in  restaurants. With the changes in rankings, only two of Oregon’s 36 counties -- Coos and Douglas -- have an extreme risk ranking. Restaurants, gyms and indoor recreation facilities can have more people indoors with each improvement in ranking. For example, restaurants can have 25% capacity in high-risk counties and 50% capacity in moderate-risk counties. 

Statewide, nine counties are at high risk, 12 are at moderate risk and 13 are at lower risk. 

"We are largely seeing case rates decline across the state, with the most counties in the lower risk level since the framework was introduced in November," Brown said in a statement. "This should serve as a reminder that when we follow the health and safety measures we know work against this virus, we can truly make a difference in infection spread. But, we still have more work to do before we reach the level of community-wide protection we need in order to return to a sense of normalcy. I encourage all Oregonians to keep it up and to get your vaccine when it's available to you."

Benton, Jefferson and Josphine counties improved from extreme risk to high risk. Curry County, one of three counties to slip in rankings, bumped down from moderate risk to high risk. 

Deschutes, Klamath, Lane, Multnomah and Yamhill improved from high risk to moderate risk. Baker and Tillamook counties worsened from lower risk to moderate risk. 

Five counties advanced to the lower risk group: Crook, Harney, Hood River, Lake and Morrow. 

Two other counties -- Malheur and Jackson -- entered a two-week caution period that puts them on notice that their ranking could worsen in two weeks. 

Jackson County qualified for extreme risk, but received a two-week warning period that allows it to remain at high risk but it just advanced from extreme risk two weeks ago. 

Malheur County qualified for high risk but is allowed to stay at moderate risk because it moved from extreme risk two weeks ago.

The state reevaluates all counties every two weeks and determines whether rankings should improve or worsen. If a county’s risk level improves for just one two-week period and then worsens, the county gets to use the second two-week period to lower its case counts without its risk ranking slipping. 

This is called a “caution period” to keep counties from zig-zagging every two weeks from an improved status to a worse status. It gives businesses more stability to plan after a county improves its risk rankings.

During the two-week “caution period,” a county that qualifies for a worse ranking gets a couple weeks to reduce case counts and avoid a drop in rankings. If the county hasn’t turned its infection level down after the caution period, its ranking can worsen.

Brown changed the state’s ranking systems to allow two-week caution periods last week. 

Malheur County health officials said the change gives them flexibility, especially in a small county where just a few more cases can shift the ranking. Malheur County had 33 positive COVID-19 cases from Feb. 21-March 6. 

That made the county’s per capita case rate 103 cases per 100,000 people. County per capita case rates between 100 and 200 put a county in the high-risk ranking. That means with just two fewer cases, Malheur County would have stayed in the moderate risk category without a caution period, Malheur County Health Department officials said in a press release.

In a statement, Malheur County Health Department Director Sarah Poe said Brown’s decision allows Oregon counties to “avoid the see-saw effect” of moving back and forth between risk levels.

“One small  outbreak can make the difference between risk levels, and that uncertainty from week to week is a hardship on our business community that is already reeling,” Poe said.

The state will announce its next risk levels on March 23, which take effect on March 26.

You can reach Ben Botkin at [email protected] or via Twitter @BenBotkin1.


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