Malheur County edges closer to state approval to begin reopening

COVID-19 testing and hospital capacity are among the requirements set by the state for counties planning their path to reopening for business. Here a health worker checks testing materials at one of three drive-thru testing clinics scheduled so far in Malheur County. (The Enterprise/Yadira Lopez)

Malheur County says it is ready to open for business.

And state officials indicated last week that the area is well on its way to getting permission to do so.

The Malheur County Health Department late last week revised its plan to win Gov. Kate Brown’s approval to allow certain businesses to open. Brown is expected to decide by midweek whether to let Malheur County return to something closer to normal business by Friday, May 15.

“Reopening Malheur County in a cautious, well-managed way, following the governor’s vision, will reduce the social damage that has unevenly hurt the most vulnerable while protecting those at high risk and promoting the holistic health and wellbeing of all,” the county said in its plan.

Still unclear as of Tuesday was whether several large events in Malheur County could be able to continue, with modifications. Brown said last week that events such as fairs and festivals scheduled through September should be canceled.

The Malheur County Fair Board on Monday night canceled the 2020 event, which had been set for August.

Organizers of the Nyssa Nite Rodeo, scheduled for June, said they haven’t decided about the event, while Vale 4th of July Rodeo leaders didn’t return phone calls about its fate. In Nyssa, organizers of Thunderegg Days were scheduled to meet Tuesday night to decide about that event.

State officials say the eastern Oregon region has already satisfied four regional requirements before business restrictions can be reduced.

That left it to Malheur County officials to show it met the remaining requirements, and the new plan says it does.

As of Monday, the county had reported 13 people infected with the coronavirus, one presumed case, and 345 negative tests.

The state is requiring a declining prevalence of COVID-19, measured by hospital emergency visits related to flu-like symptoms. Saint Alphonsus Medical Center Ontario reported that such visits this year are below the historic average and that no one has been hospitalized for treatment of COVID-19.

The state also is requiring testing for underserved communities and essential workers. The county has conducted two drive-thru testing clinics, with one more scheduled Thursday, and that Saint Alphonsus has the supplies needed to test health care workers and patients.

The state is requiring the county have enough people to conduct contact tracing. This involves questioning an infected person about others they had contact with and then reaching those people to determine if they have virus symptoms.

The state is requiring the county have hotel rooms to quarantine anyone who tests positive for COVID-19 but can’t isolate themselves. Malheur County said arrangements have been with three local hotels for such quarantine needs.

The state is requiring Malheur County have supplies of personal protective gear on hand for its first responders. The county said its supply is “adequate.”

“We have carefully prepared for worst-case scenarios and reduced the risk of exposure in our rural community significantly,” said the county plan.

The county said people who are infected but don’t need to be hospitalized are directed to put themselves in quarantine for 14 days.

“Those who test positive for COVID-19 and/or have signs and symptoms, should stay isolated at home until they have been symptom free for 72 hours to protect the health and safety of the public, workers in critical industries, high risk facilities, and all other sectors,” the county plan said.


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