Top health official says county must unify, show resilience to overcome Covid epidemic

Sarah Poe, Malheur County Health Department director said she believes the local community has an opportunity to band together to defeat the Covid epidemic. (CDC file art)

ONTARIO – Malheur County now confronts an opportunity to rise to the occasion to defeat Covid in much the same way the nation performed during World War II, according to Sarah Poe, Malheur County Health Department director.

Gov. Kate Brown Wednesday announced an extension likely to last through December of a “pause” to stop the spread of Covid in the state. The “pause” mandated restaurants and bars in Malheur County and across the state to only provide takeout service and closed gyms and other venues such as museums. Church services were also limited.

On Wednesday, Brown loosened restrictions on restaurants and bars, allowing them to host up to 50 people for outdoor dining, though only six people are allowed at a table.

Restrictions on social gatherings – no more than six people – remain but churches can resume services, limited to 25% of a building’s capacity or 100 people, whichever is fewer.

Brown also urged retailers, grocers and pharmacies to switch to curbside pickup for goods and limited people inside to 50% of a building’s capacity.

Poe said – in a plea she’s made for more than eight months – that the tactic to overcome Covid is simple.

“Just following the existing guidance,” she said.

The challenge, said Poe, is “people don’t take it seriously until it impacts them closely.”

“We don’t want people to get to that point,” said Poe.

Poe said personal responsibility is more important now than ever.

“If we don’t want state restrictions we have to take individual responsibility. That means wearing a mask around people you don’t live with and not having larger gatherings,” said Poe.

The county now has an opportunity to make a statement to the rest of the state, said Poe.

“I am asking individuals in the community to really make this a grassroots effort, make this about Malheur County taking care of Malheur County,” said Poe.

Malheur County Judge Dan Joyce was resigned and not surprised Wednesday afternoon after the governor’s announcement.

“We’ve done everything we have been asked to do. What else can we do?” said Joyce

Joyce said he believes the state is “working the wrong end” of the Covid crisis. He said more focus and energy should be on distributing a Covid vaccine.

“And whatever else is out there the doctors are recommending that we can’t get information on. All I ever hear is what we are not doing,” said Joyce.

Joyce said he is “extremely” frustrated by the Covid restrictions and especially concerned about the fate of local restaurants.

“Restaurants have done everything they’ve been asked to do,” said Joyce.

Poe said the Covid crisis demands the undivided attention of the public.

“When individuals do not create a safe, healthy environment that is when we need restrictions,” said Poe.

Poe said there is a “light at the end of the tunnel,” because of a Covid vaccine.

“People need to hold on. We are close,” said Poe.

Previous coverage:

New limits take hold in Malheur County as Covid case counts head back up

Malheur County outlines new measure to battle Covid outbreak

News tip? Contact reporter Pat Caldwell at [email protected]

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