Oregon Governor Kate Brown took the dramatic step Thursday night, announcing she would send Umatila County to Eastern Oregon back home after a six-week coronavirus barrier.
Brown said neighboring Morrow County would return to Phase 1 of the reopening.
The moves mark Brown’s first action to restore restrictions on selected counties after she began lifting restrictions on May 1
“COVID-19 has spread dramatically in both the cities of Umatila and Morrow in the last month,” Brown said in a statement. “My heart goes to the families in Morrow County, Umatila County and the Confederate tribes of the Umatila Indian Reservation who have been affected by this disease.
“If we don’t act now, we could see the virus spread even faster, infecting and killing more members of the community,” she said. “I know this is difficult news for business owners and working families in the region.”
It is unclear what prompted Brown to act Thursday in a press release issued at 7:39 p.m., more than five hours after Oregon health officials suggested the state had seen a relatively positive week in its fight against the pandemic.
Cases have been piling up in both jurisdictions for weeks, with the highest numbers seen in Umatila County, where more than 1,900 confirmed or suspected infections have been reported.
On Thursday, officials announced 101 new infections in Umatila County, but said it was due to delays in treatment results. Wednesday was only four in all.
Umatilla County was in Phase 2 of its reopening, but is now returning to basic status, as Brown ordered in March through May 15. It is assumed that businesses should implement job options for employees, restaurants can offer take-off and delivery services, and residents should stay at home as long as possible. Social events are limited to 10 people, church fairs are limited to 25, and gyms and playgrounds must be closed.
Grocery and retail stores, gas stations and banks are among the businesses that can stay open.
Meanwhile, Morrow County will move from Phase 2 back to Phase 1. Among other things, movie theaters and bowling alleys need to close.
Brown said both counties have a cumulative number of coronavirus cases over 2 per 100 inhabitants. The percentage of positive tests from Umatila County last week was 23%, while in Morrow County it was 30%, she said, approximately five to six times above the national average.
Meanwhile, approximately half of the cases in the past week cannot be traced to a known source.
“After weeks of trying other disease control measures, our only option is to temporarily close some businesses and other community facilities,” Brown said. “I hope that these measures will help the community to control the spread of COVID-19 quickly.”
Umatilla and Morrow counties were identified by President Trump’s coronavirus group as “red zones,” according to a July 26 report from The New York Times. The Fedes also designed Malhor and Jefferson counties as red.
The federal government recommends that red-zone counties close bars and gyms, introduce routine weekly tests for all nursing home workers, and monitor and test surge contact in areas with the highest rates.
– Brad Schmid; firstname.lastname@example.org; 503-294-7628; @_brad_schmidt
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