Umatilla County is back at Phase 2.
According to Umatilla County Commissioner George Murdock, Gov. Kate Brown informed the county of its status in an unexpected phone call the morning of Friday, Sept. 11.
“We knew that we were really in good shape and in the position for it to happen, but we feared that perhaps with all the eyes on the incredible devastation that’s going on with the forest fires that maybe it wouldn’t get addressed,” Murdock said. “But it did.”
In Phase 2, indoor and outdoor recreation and entertainment venues, such as movie theaters and pools, are able to reopen, in addition to restaurants and bars being permitted to stay open until 10 p.m. and large gatherings being capped at 50 people.
Brown and the Oregon Health Authority denied the county’s petition for Phase 2 the week prior to the announcement, citing three of six case metrics the county hadn’t met and a prevalence of COVID-19 cases above 100 cases per 100,000 people. Those metrics were uptrends in hospitalizations over the last 14 days, uptrends in positive test rate in the last week and an uptrend of more than 5% in new cases over the last week.
The Umatilla County Public Health Department has reported five hospitalizations as of Sept. 11, down from eight the week before. The Oregon Health Authority also reported a downtrend of 26% in newly reported cases over the last seven days, and a downtrend in test positivity rate over that same span.
After the county’s Phase 2 application was initially denied, Umatilla County Public Health Director Joe Fiumara said he had little confidence in the county being approved for Phase 2 by Sept. 11 because Umatilla County hadn’t met all six metrics used to evaluate its reopening status at any time since they were instituted.
“Going back to early May, we didn’t necessarily meet six out of six on a given week,” Fiumara said. “I had a conversation with Commissioner Shafer (Thursday, Sept. 10) where he asked me what I thought our chances were. I told him there wasn’t one.”
So, Fiumara was surprised when the governor’s office called on Sept. 11 to inform the county it had not only met the metrics but the state would also be excluding the case numbers among those incarcerated at the two state prisons located in Umatilla County.
”In the past week, the county had 107 cases for a case rate of 131.8 per 100,000,” a press release from Brown’s office stated. “Excluding adults in custody, the case rate was 87.5 per 100,000, down from 109.7 per 100,000 over the prior week.”
According to the Oregon Department of Corrections, a combined 307 cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed among inmates at Eastern Oregon Correctional Institution in Pendleton and Two Rivers Correctional Institution in Umatilla.
“Prison populations are in our community so we can’t count them out entirely,” Fiumara said. “But they’re also not a really good indicator for what’s going on day to day within the community.”
While returning to Phase 2 after the state sent Umatilla County back to the baseline of reopening on July 31 was a necessary milestone to reach, the county is urging residents to remain diligent in protecting themselves and others from the virus.
“Almost week to week we’re hearing more chatter of vaccines and different treatment methods they’re looking into,” Umatilla County Public Health director Joe Fiumara said. “That’s all promising stuff. But until we’ve got it, all we’ve got is the physical distancing and face coverings. That’s what we’ve got right now and it’s working.”
A week after no new workplace outbreaks were reported in Umatilla or Morrow counties, the Oregon Health Authority’s weekly report published Sept. 10 included a new workplace outbreak of five cases reported at Ranch and Home in Hermiston.
Guardian Angel Homes in Hermiston was also reported as having 18 cases of the virus and one death of a resident positive for COVID-19. Another Hermiston assisted living facility, Sun Terrace, was readded to the active outbreak list with 10 cases and one death among its residents.
The Oregon Health Authority report includes a list of workplaces with at least 30 employees that have had at least five cases of COVID-19 linked to them, either through employees testing positive or confirmed cases being traced back to those employees as the most probable source.