Malheur County will back up on some opening standards as Covid continues to spread

UPDATE: This story has been updated with new information from a news conference held on Wednesday, July 22, by Gov. Kate Brown.

Malheur County will have to take a step back from its opening along with other counties in the state as coronavirus cases continue to mount and health officials say they continue to trace infections to gatherings.

Gov. Kate Brown announced at a news conference on Wednesday, July 22, that gatherings in places such as churches and restaurants would move from 250 to 100. Malheur County officials had exempted churches from requirements they imposed recently to limit indoor gatherings to 10 and outdoor gatherings to 25.

When the county moved to Phase 2 standards on June 6, that allowed restaurants and bars to remain open two hours later and allow venues such as theaters and pools to open again to the public.

The governor also said that children 5 and older would now have to wear masks, including in school settings.

She said counties on the state Watch List, which includes Malheur County, could face changes separately in the next two days. She didn’t disclose what those changes would be for counties where the coronavirus is spreading.

State and county officials have been warning for weeks that tighter restrictions were coming if cases of Covid continued to spread.

“If we cannot slow the spread of the virus, we will have to take more drastic steps,” the governor said on July 1.

“It is very important that we slow the spread of COVID-19 to save lives, reduce outbreaks, keep businesses open, and get kids back to school in person,” the Malheur County Health Department said in a statement on its website Monday evening. “None of this could happen if our rates of COVID-19 keep increasing.

The Malheur County Court on July 15 said in a resolution limiting gatherings in the county that “if a consultative approach does not result in compliance, more serious and additional action” by the county would be warranted.

“Case investigators are still tracing multiple COVID-19 cases to social gatherings, where people have not followed the guidance to reduce the risk of spreading the virus,” the Malheur County Health Department said in a statement on its website Monday evening. 

“Even if the people you are gathering with are extended family, coworkers, neighbors, or close friends, you should ensure the group is kept to 10 or less indoors, 25 or less outdoors, and that everyone over age 12 wears a face covering if 6 foot physical distance is not maintained at all times,” the county agency said.

DOCUMENT: Malheur County resolution

The number of cases of persons testing positive for Covid has climbed rapidly in Malheur County, punching through 500 in recent days and hitting 520 as of Monday. More worrisome to health authorities is that the rate of positive tests is three times the level set as a trigger for restrictions. On Monday, 16.6% of tests were coming back positive – four times the average rate around Oregon.

Across Oregon, the rate of Covid infections averages 35.7 per 10,000 people. In Malheur County, the rate is 161.4. Only two counties are worse – Morrow at 161.6 and Umatilla at 177.2, according to data from the Oregon Health Authority and shared by the Malheur County Health Department.

This story will be updated.

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