POLK COUNTY — Polk County's application to enter Phase I of reopening on May 15 was denied because it did not meet a prerequisite for decreased hospitalizations over a 14-day period.
In a May 14 letter to Polk County Commissioners, Gov. Kate Brown said the county's metrics will be reviewed again on May 20 for a potential reopening on May 22. The county does not need to submit another application.
There was an increase in hospitalizations between April 26 and May 9 compared to the week of April 12 through April 25.
Brown said there were other areas of “significant concern,” including an increase in cases that “were sporadic, or not tied to an existing case.”
“We know you are working hard to address the challenges your county faces,” Brown said. “I have directed the Oregon Health Authority to provide additional support to your efforts to identify and contain COVID-19 in your county.”
Brown held an hour-long press briefing Thursday morning with Oregon Health Authority Director Patrick Allen and Dr. Dean Sidelinger, the state's epidemiologist.
“As businesses closed their doors to protect their employees and their customers, so many Oregonians have lost their jobs and have lost income,” Brown said. “This has been extraordinarily difficult for all of us, but it is saving lives.”
She said most retailers were not required to close, but many did.
“Many retailers are gradually opening under safe physical distancing protocols,” she said.
She said people who usually work in offices, but have been working from home during the pandemic should continue to do so to limit the spread of the disease.
“Some people will hear these rules and see the list of counties entering Phase I and say we are still being too restrictive,” Brown said. “Others will hear the exact same information and say we are moving too quickly to reopening the economy. I'm focused on protecting the health and safety of Oregonians, while understanding that job losses have a negative impact on public health, both physical and emotional health “
Good public health and a strong economy are not an either or scenario, she said.
“The virus is still very dangerous and until there is a reliable treatment or a vaccine, unfortunately, we will not be able to go back to life as we knew it,” Brown said.
Counties will need to be in Phase I for at least three weeks before being considered for Phase II.
“For Oregonians who live in counties that didn't get a green light, I know this may be hard news,” Allen said. “Regardless of where you live, my message to all Oregonians remains the same: More than ever, we are all in this pandemic together. Getting to open, staying open and moving on to Phase II, depends on all of us protecting each other, our families and ourselves.”
We flattened the curve in Oregon, he said, and the percentage of positive tests continues to decline.
Because COVID-19 is still present in Oregon, every community remains vulnerable, he said.
“That means our personal actions each day will either slow the virus or spread it,” Allen said. “As we move into reopening, your face covering also protects the waiters, hair stylists and retail employees that are helping your life return to something closer to normal.”
Allen said when someone tests positive, a state or local public health contact tracer will ask for information about other people they've been near who may have been exposed.
“Until we have an effective vaccine or treatment for COVID-19, testing, tracing and isolating are the only tools we have to continue to suppress the disease in Oregon without returning to business shutdowns and other extreme tools,” Allen said. “These tools can work, but only if more than 9 out of 10 Oregonians who are identified by contact tracers cooperate with the guidance to keep others safe.”
In addressing a question about people traveling to counties that are open, Allen said “reopening is a team sport.”
“It's not going to work if some people follow the rules and other people don't and if people decide to travel, whether it's tourist destinations or other counties that are open to get services,” Allen said. “We need to take this slowly. We need to take this one step at a time and we need everyone on the team to do their part.”