White House recommends tighter Covid restrictions for places like Malheur County

The White House has placed Malheur County and Ontario in a Covid “red zone,” recommending the closure of bars and gyms among other stricter guidelines, according to a document made public this week.

The recommendation is more stringent than those imposed by Gov. Kate Brown or the county limits on gatherings put in place this week by the Malheur County Court.

In Oregon, Ontario was one of two Oregon localities and Malheur County one of four counties in the red zone, meaning they reported both new cases above 100 per 100,000 people and test positivity rates over 10% in the week of July 4-10, according to a White House Coronavirus Task Force document that was obtained and made public by the Center for Public Integrity Thursday.

As of Thursday, there were a total of 476 Covid cases and five deaths in Malheur County, according to the Malheur County Health Department, and the positive testing rate for the week of July 6-12 was 33.6%.

DOCUMENT: Task Force report

Results are up to date as of July 17. (Kezia Setyawan/The Enterprise)

The White House document recommends that those in red zones not go “to bars, nightclubs, or gyms,” wear a mask “at all times outside the home,” limit social gatherings to 10 people or less and limiting “public interactions and activities to 25%” of normal amounts.

The document recommends that public officials close bars and gyms, create outdoor dining areas, test workers in assisted living and long-term care facilities weekly, and “ensure that all business retailers and personal services require masks and can safely social distance,” among other restrictions. Testing recommendations focused on ways to reduce test time turnaround and increase access, such as pooling Covid test samples in labs.

“I do believe that current circumstances and in Malheur County warrant following those recommendations,” said Sarah Poe, Malheur County Health Department director. “I really do think that given our numbers that we should be reducing our risk of exposure however possible.”

Poe said she “absolutely” supports being able to test those in long-term care and assisted living facilities weekly and that it’s “ideal” but that the county does not have the capacity to do that as of now.

“If you were talking about my wish list for what do we need to fight Covid, that would be my number one ask, but it’s almost a federal wish that we would have the testing capacity with the supply chain to be able to test a lot of people regularly, especially those who are in high risk settings,” said Poe. “That’s how we get back to normal life quicker is the ability to just test everybody regularly so that we can isolate those who are positive really quickly.”

The other Oregon counties flagged in the report as being in the red zone were Umatilla, Morrow and Jefferson.

The Oregon Health Authority didn’t respond to questions Friday about the document.

On July 15, the Malheur County Court imposed new local limits on indoor and outdoor gatherings, banning groups of 10 or more to gather indoors and groups of 25 or more to gather outdoors. Indoor groups with less than 10 people and outdoor groups with less than 25 people must also wear face coverings and socially distance.

But the limits only cover local, social gatherings, like backyard weddings, book clubs and parties. Churches, salons, gyms, grocery stores, pharmacies and other retail businesses are not affected and can remain open.

The county’s restrictions mimic new state guidelines announced by Gov. Kate Brown on Monday, which also banned indoor gatherings of more than 10 people — not including churches or businesses. Oregonians must also wear masks outdoors when social distancing can’t be done.

Nationwide, 621 out of 3,007 counties, or 20%, are in the red zone, according to the document. However, Oregon as a whole is in the “yellow zone” for cases — between 10 to 100 new cases per 100,000 people — and in the “green zone” for test positivity with a rate below 5%, according to the document.

A Friday article published by the Center for Public Integrity said scientists such as Dr. Tom Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention during the Obama administration, were upset that the White House document had not been made public. Many governors received the document.

According to the article, Kellyanne Conway, counselor to the president, said Friday morning that she “wasn’t sure” the document released by Public Integrity “was factual.”

“The White House is not afraid of information,” said Conway in the article. “We publish many documents.”

(Kezia Setyawan/The Enterprise)

News tip? Contact reporter Bailey Lewis at [email protected]


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