Governor Reopens Multnomah County But Requires Masks For 7 Counties
Multnomah County will enter the first phase of reopening on Friday, the last to do so after a three-month shutdown to slow the spread of COVID-19, Gov. Kate Brown said Wednesday.
Brown’s decision puts all of Oregon’s 36 counties on the three-phase path to reopening businesses and public events, albeit gradually to avoid a surge in COVID-19 cases that overwhelms hospitals.
Stricter rules are ahead, however. Brown ordered that people must wear face masks in stores and other indoor public places in Multnomah, Washington, Clackamas, Hood River, Marion, Polk and Lincoln counties. The order is effective next Wednesday, the same day the Legislature starts a special session in Salem.
Brown warned that the state could roll back the reopening if cases multiply beyond the health care system’s capacity.
“If hospitalizations spike too rapidly, if the capacity of our health care system is threatened, we will be forced to revert to stricter rules,” Brown said in a statement.
On its own, Union County decided to step back from Phase 2, which it entered June 5, and return to Phase 1 on Wednesday to quell the state’s biggest outbreak. More than 230 people associated with the Lighthouse United Pentecostal Church caught COVID-19. Churches are kept closed in Phase 1. Union County is the first in Oregon to have to retreat.
The Oregon Health Authority reported 6,218 cases and 183 deaths on Wednesday. Daily case counts have spiked since the state first loosened restrictions last month. The authority reported 278 new cases on Tuesday, a record for the pandemic. There were 184 new cases on Monday.
Multnomah County public health officials said residents still need to practice social distancing and wear masks to keep cases as low as possible.
“This virus is in our community,” said Dr. Jennifer Vines, Multnomah County health officer. “ We expect cases to go up.”
Brown’s release did not detail how the state will enforce the new mask requirement. Until now, Brown and public health officials have recommended and encouraged people to wear masks, but not mandated them. When people talk, cough or sneeze, they spray viral particles into the air which then can stay infectious for three hours. Masks prevent their spread.
Last Friday, Brown announced a one-week pause on reopening decisions, citing an increase in cases and hospitalizations. Multnomah County had planned to move into Phase 1 that day.
“While Multnomah County has seen an increase in new cases recently, the county has not experienced an uptrend in new hospital admissions, and overall hospitalizations remain well within capacity,” Brown said Wednesday.
Phase 1 allows restaurants and bars, to open provided strangers can stay 6-feet apart. Personal services like barbershops, hair salons, gyms and spas can open by appointment, and gatherings up to 25 people are permitted. Phase 2 allows larger gatherings provided individuals, couples or groups that are together have plenty of space and it opens the door for bowling alleys and movie theaters to open. Phase 3 will allow gatherings in large venues, but a vaccine or cure will be necessary before that happens.
Brown said she is allowing Marion, Polk and Hood River counties to move to Phase 2 on Friday because those counties have a decline in hospitalizations.
The state is grouping the tri-county area as a unit. That means that Clackamas and Washington counties, which have been in Phase 1 since May 23 and June 1, respectively, will not be able to advance until Multnomah County is ready. Each county has to remain in Phase 1 at least 21 days.
“I know this impacts communities and businesses in Clackamas and Washington counties but, as we reopen our state, we must recognize how interconnected the metro area is,” Brown said.
The latest advancement will put 32 counties in Phase 2 and four counties in Phase 1. Multnomah County Chairwoman Deborah Kafoury said the governor’s office didn’t ask her for input about putting the tri-county region into one unit, but said she supports the move and already works closely with the nearby counties.
“We know that people in the Portland metro area live in one county, work in another and recreate in a third,” Kafoury said. “And yet, the virus does not care about county lines.”