This Centers for Disease Control and Prevention rendering shows the COVID-19 virus.

Umatilla County is among nine Oregon counties on a two-week “social pause” to try to slow down a sudden surge in COVID-19 infections in the state.

From Nov. 11 to Nov. 25, counties included in the pause must reduce the capacity of restaurants, bars, gyms, bowling alleys and other indoor recreation facilities to no more than 50 people at a time, with tables at restaurants seating no more than six. Churches are exempt from the 50-person limit.

All indoor visits to long-term care facilities are halted. Businesses are asked to have all employees able to work from home to do so. Individuals must limit their social gatherings to six people or fewer when including people from outside their household, and everyone is asked to reduce the frequency of social gatherings altogether and try to limit their contact circle to no more than six people outside their household.

As part of the pause, Hermiston School District suspended all in-person activities until further notice, including the limited in-person instruction that had been taking place for special education and Newcomers students, and onsite extra-curricular activities, including sports practices and conditioning.

“I am heartbroken over this turn of events,” Superintendent Dr. Tricia Mooney said in a statement. “These student interactions — teacher to student and with peers — is vital to the well being of all involved, students and adults!”

Veterans Day activities were also canceled or modified, including the Hermiston Chamber of Commerce’s planned parade.

After Umatilla County successfully brought down its COVID-19 cases following a major surge over the summer, the county’s cases are rising once again, as is the percentage of tests coming back positive. In the seven days between Nov. 3-9, the county reported 160 new cases of COVID-19.

Meanwhile, statewide, Oregon surpassed 600 cases in a single day on Oct. 31 and since then has seen cases continue to shoot up, with an average of 740 new cases per day last week. On Monday, Nov. 9, the state reported 269 hospitalizations of COVID-19 patients, sparking worries from health officials that Oregon was headed toward maxing out its hospital capacity.

“We’ve been nervous with how these rates are going,” Umatilla County Public Health Director Joe Fiumara said. “I think we’ve felt here that we’ve been able to stay on top of it — our hospitals have been able to stay relatively available, our tracers have been able to follow up within 24 hours — but you never know when you’re going to get to that point where you’re not doing that anymore.”

Fiumara and state public health officials have stated that the latest surges seem to be driven mostly by small, informal social gatherings between family and friends that have then been spread elsewhere by attendees.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the most common symptoms of COVID-19 are fever, chills, cough, shortness of breath, headache, muscle aches, sore throat, vomiting or diarrhea, runny nose or congestion and the loss of taste or smell. In some patients, the virus has caused permanent or long-lasting damage to the heart, lungs, brain or other organs or caused lingering symptoms months after the patients no longer test positive for the virus.

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