Oregon continued to set new records for COVID-19 cases day after day heading into Thanksgiving week, sparking concerns from state officials.
On Saturday, Nov. 21, Oregon Health Authority reported the state had broken its single-day record for reported cases for the second day in a row, with 1,509 new cases reported by county health departments around the state.
The health authority announced Friday, Nov. 20, that 412 people were hospitalized with COVID-19 in Oregon, a 142% increase since Nov. 1.
Umatilla County reported 143 new cases between Saturday, Nov. 21 and Monday, Nov. 23. In the 14-day period of Nov. 6-19, Umatilla County reported a total of 390 new cases, with 25% of the tests in the county coming back positive. Under the current metrics set by the state, the county needs to be at 80 cases over a 14-day period to return to in-person learning in schools.
To try to slow the spread of the virus ahead of the holiday, Gov. Kate Brown placed a two-week “freeze” on the state from Nov. 18 to Dec. 2. The freeze includes restrictions on businesses, places of worship, recreational facilities and other gathering places, and a ban on social gatherings with more than six people or including people from more than two households.
She stated violators could potentially be punished with up to $1,250 or 30 days in jail.
Oregon State Sheriffs’ Association, the Oregon Association of Chiefs of Police and the Oregon State Police put out a joint statement saying they highly encouraged everyone to follow the restrictions put in place to protect Oregon’s vulnerable residents. They said agencies planned to take an “education first” approach and only issue citations for gatherings “as a last resort.”
Hermiston Police Chief Jason Edmiston told the East Oregonian last week that officers would be able to use their own discretion in enforcing the law on gatherings, and he and other law enforcement officials in the area stated they weren’t expecting to see tickets issued for gatherings on private property.
“If and when these calls come in, we’re going to approach them with the same standards we deal with all along — with reasonableness,” Edmiston said.
Morrow County Sheriff Ken Matlack issued a statement saying his office hadn’t issued any criminal penalties for disobeying COVID-19 rules so far, and didn’t expect to start during the two-week freeze.
“If citizens or businesses refuse to follow the safety recommendations, they could face civil litigation or fines from OSHA or OLCC. They will not be cited or arrested by any member of the Morrow County Sheriff’s Office,” he wrote.
On Friday, Nov. 20, the Oregon Health Authority announced it was making a significant adjustment to how it is counting test positivity rates in the state.
Previously, OHA was only counting tests performed on people who had not been previously tested. So, for example, if a person tested negative in July, and then again in November, the November test would not be included in the state’s report of COVID-19 testing totals. Now, OHA will include all tests.
According to OHA, that change in how the data is recorded moves Oregon’s test positivity rate down from 12.9% to 6.7% for last week.
“When we recalculate our historic positivity rates using the new method, Oregon’s test positivity rate drops significantly,” OHA Director Pat Allen said in a news conference. “It goes from a shockingly high rate of almost 13% to an alarmingly high rate of nearly 7%. While the percentage is lower now, it’s still above the level that would indicate declining spread and a safe level to fully reopen schools and businesses.”