State Lowers COVID-19 Risk Level in 16 Oregon Counties

Kate Brown by Shutterstock.jpg

Sixteen Oregon counties improved their COVID-19 risk levels as infections continue to drop across the state, Gov. Kate Brown announced Tuesday. 

Ten of those 16 counties improved from “extreme risk,” the state’s worst level that severely restricts activities like sit-down dining, working out in gyms and social gatherings. The improvement will let those 10 counties open more and have limited indoor dining and other activities. The counties include Marion, Polk, Yamhill, Umatilla, Lane, Jackson, Crook and Deschutes, which improved one step, to “high risk.” 

The state has four risk levels that determine the health and safety measures to rein in COVID-19. The framework is based on case counts and infection levels in each county; the state assesses county rankings every two weeks . As counties improve or regress, the state eases or tightens restrictions. 

When a county drops from extreme risk to high risk, it can have indoor dining, with capacity limited to 25% of a restaurant or 50 people, whichever is less. In extreme risk counties, indoor dining in restaurants is prohibited. Indoor recreation and fitness facilities with more than 500 square feet can expand from having six clients total to 25% of capacity or 50 people.  Long-term care facilities can have indoor visitors, instead of only outdoor visitors. 

The new rankings take effect on Friday and will stay in place until March 11.

Businesses in counties with improved risk levels now must decide whether to go to the expense of opening up, including bringing back laid-off staff, or wait until there is more certainty. If COVID-19 case counts were to jump in a particular county in early March, the state could respond by reimposing a tighter risk level.

The remaining three counties to exit the extreme risk ranking moved further in the framework that opens up businesses. Union and Malheur counties jumped two levels to “moderate risk,” the second-best ranking. Wasco County went three levels from “extreme” to “low risk” the best ranking. 

“For the second (two-week time period) in a row, we are seeing great progress in stopping the spread of COVID-19 across Oregon and saving lives," Brown said in a statement. "Oregonians continue to step up and make smart choices. While these county movements are welcome news, we must continue to take seriously health and safety measures, especially as more businesses reopen and we start to get out more. As we see infection rates going down and vaccinations ramping up, now is not the time to let down our guard. Continue to wear your masks, keep physical distance, and avoid indoor gatherings."

In the Portland area, Multnomah County’s high risk ranking stays the same, although Clackamas and Washington counties improved from high risk to moderate risk. That ranking will allow restaurants to have indoor dining for up to 100 people or 50% capacity, whichever is less. The better ranking means similar changes for indoor entertainment, recreation and fitness facilities. Those counties join Linn and Hood River, which also moved from high risk to moderate risk. 

Coastal counties also advanced. Lincoln and Clatsop counties moved from high risk to lower risk, the ranking with fewest restrictions. 

With the changes, just five of Oregon’s 36 counties will have the extreme risk ranking: Benton, Coos, Douglas, Jefferson and Josephine. Eleven counties have the high risk ranking, ten have the moderate risk ranking and another ten have the lower risk ranking. 

Three counties regressed in rankings. Douglas County moved from the high ranking back to the extreme ranking. Curry and Harney counties both moved from lower risk to moderate risk.

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

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