Polk County Courthouse

Polk County will train additional employees to track COVID-19 cases. 

Itemizer-Observer

DALLAS – On Monday afternoon, Polk County submitted its application to begin phased reopening of businesses and activities on May 15.

The request will be considered by Gov. Kate Brown’s office.

“Polk County has had a relatively low incident and death rate in COVID-19 cases since the pandemic began,” read a letter to Brown from the Polk County Board of Commissioners included in the application. “With the exception of a recent outbreak in long-term care facility, Polk County’s numbers have consistently fallen below the state average.”

On May 7, Brown released guidelines for phased reopening that will be considered by region. Polk County is part of a region at includes Yamhill, Lincoln, Benton, Marion and Linn counties. The plan has three phases, lasting at least 21 days. Areas can advance to the next phase if all requirements are met and there’s no new surge in cases of COVID-19.

Polk County believes it has met all the criteria the counties are responsible for, including hiring and training 13 contact tracers, providing hotel rooms for those who can’t self-isolate, providing an outline of how it would respond to outbreaks under a variety of circumstances (group homes, assisted living centers, and jails), and providing personal protective equipment to first responders.

County Administrator Greg Hansen said Polk’s reopening timeline may depend on the progress of the other counties in the region, but county leaders asked the governor to consider the county’s low incident rate.

“Though we believe the health region should get authorization to restart collectively on May 15, we would respectfully request that Polk County not be held back from its desperately needed ability to begin phased opening due to possible anomalies of prevalence in Polk County or neighboring areas,” the letter to Brown read. “By way of example, a recent increase in statistical infection rates in the county and neighboring counties from congregate living facilities do not indicate a prevalence of the infection rates amongst the general population that would preclude a phased reopening plan.”

The application included letters of support for the plan from Salem Hospital; the county’s  chief medical officer, public health officer, emergency management officer; the Dallas city manager; and Dallas Area Chamber of Commerce.

The Dallas City Council voted unanimously in favor of supporting the county’s plan, as did the chamber board.

“The Dallas Area Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors have unanimously voted in favor of advocating a public health based, safe, and phased regional reopening,” wrote Tammy Noon and Zachary Steele, both members of the chamber board. “We would like to offer any assistance we as the chamber and local business community can offer in formulating your plan. Please know we support your efforts and look forward to building a strong coalition to move economic recovery forward.”

Hansen said he estimates Brown’s office will let the county know by Wednesday or Thursday if it’s request is granted.

“Our citizens are thoughtful, careful, and hard-working people that want to be given an opportunity to demonstrate their commitment to saving lives while maintaining their livelihoods in a county that struggles to compete in the region,” the application read.

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