Malheur County has one of the highest rates of new COVID-19 cases in the state, with 107 new COVID-19 cases reported in the last week, bringing the total case count to 204. Over 150 of those people are potentially still infectious. The rate of positive tests has more than doubled since June 23rd and the number of cases has more than tripled in the same time. In response to these alarming numbers, the Office of the Governor Kate Brown reported yesterday that eight counties, including Malheur, are on a Watch List and will face restrictions if metrics don’t improve.
We support this action because we are at a critical point in this pandemic. The coronavirus is all around us and we need solutions from multiple approaches to get us out of such a dangerous time, as quickly as possible. We need government advocacy, business adherence to guidance, community-based organization backing, and most importantly, for the people who live and work in Malheur County to take responsibility for their part in protecting our community. This can be done by wearing face coverings, maintaining at least 6-foot distance between people in different households, staying home with symptoms, and complying with isolation and quarantine orders. We need the state, businesses, and the public to help make this happen.
It is our goal to reopen Malheur County as soon as possible safely. We want kids to be able to go back to school in person this fall and for public life to resume, with events and thriving businesses. However, to get there, it will take a serious effort by the public to reduce the rate of COVID-19 transmission. It is time for the county to pause and reassess readiness as COVID-19 poses such a great risk to our continued reopening.
The time to follow the guidance is not after we have more hospitalizations, wide-spread infections, and hundreds of people quarantined. We know what works to slow the spread and we did a great job preventing outbreaks for many weeks after the first case was reported in Malheur County on March 30th. After entering Phase 2, we had an increase in cases, more hospitalizations, and significant community spread, where the virus comes from an unknown case. While on the Watch List, the Malheur County COVID-19 Taskforce and elected officials will work with the state to find solutions that work for our community to slow the spread.
The Management Action Points in the Reopening Plan for Malheur County included stopping to reassess if we had a total of 20 new cases in a week. If any of the Action Points were met, “a hold could be placed on moving forward with any other public life or business sector reopening to allow time for more case investigation to occur.” In the last seven days, we had more than five times that number.
It is our recommendation that face coverings are enforced in indoor public spaces, that businesses receive timely follow up to complaints to follow their specific guidance, and that people avoid gatherings of more than 10 people indoors or 25 people outdoors. Many cases have been linked to gatherings where people are often eating, drinking or talking without face coverings. No large events should be held at this time. Additional restrictions may be made by the state or considered by the county if the rate of positive cases continues to increase.
It is absolutely crucial that everyone do their part to reduce the risk of COVID-19 for themselves and those who are most vulnerable in our county. It will take several solutions from all sectors of our community to flatten the curve of new infections and save lives.