Gov. Kate Brown Rejects Multnomah County’s Application to Reopen

June 12 was supposed to be the day for reopening the last Oregon county, but Portland has not met the state’s criteria.

Portland rapper Mic Capes along North Lombard Street. (Brian Burk)

Gov. Kate Brown has rejected Multnomah County's application to begin reopening tomorrow, several sources told WW this evening.

The governor's decision comes after Multnomah County failed to meet the criteria for reopening set by the state. A state website, which appears to have been updated today, showed that Oregon's largest county failed to show a decline in new COVID-19 cases over the past week.

Neither the governor's office nor county officials would immediately confirm the decision to WW. But moments after WW published this post, Brown issued a statement, saying she had "paused" all counties in the state from moving forward with their reopening applications.

"The noticeable increase in COVID-19 infections in Oregon over the past week is cause for concern," Brown said. "In order to ensure that the virus is not spreading too quickly, I am putting all county applications for further reopening on hold for seven days. This is essentially a statewide 'yellow light.' It is time to press pause for one week before any further reopening."

Multnomah County is the only county in the state yet to enter the first stage of reopening—so the pause amounts to stopping the launch.

Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury commented after Brown's official announcement.

"This was not the outcome we anticipated when we submitted our application on June 5,'' Kafoury said. "I understand how difficult this is for businesses, employers and families. But the increase in cases and delay in reopening is a reminder that we are very much still in this.''

The governor's office said the state's largest county was experiencing an alarming spike in cases.

"Multnomah County has seen an increase in residents admitted to the hospital over the last two weeks," the statement said. "The percent of tests that are positive is going up, in the face of increased testing. Over 40% of the new cases in the last week have not been traced to a source."

Multnomah County was supposed to be the final Oregon county to begin reopening after the governor's stay-at-home order, which she issued March 23.

Specifically, the county has not seen a decrease in hospitalizations over the last 14 days, according to the website. (At this point, Clackamas, Polk and Washington counties also do not meet that criterion.)

The county also has not hired the requisite number of contact tracers, but that was never expected to hold the governor back from reopening the county. (As in other places, the county's ability to hire people for that role as well as the county's track record at tracing the infection will come into play.)

Numi Lee Griffith of OSPIRG, the non-profit research group that earlier this week called on Brown to delay Multnomah County's application, applauded Brown's decision. She said slowing down now could help Oregon avoid the kind of second wave of infections other states have experienced after reopening.

"We spoke out early in support of Gov. Brown's 'Building a Safe and Strong Oregon' framework because it's a careful plan built on solid epidemiological evidence," Griffith said. "This Wednesday, we called on the state to pause reopening following recent infection trends until the extent of the outbreak could be assessed. We're glad that Gov. Brown has chosen to stick with her original plan, and pump the brakes as we see warning signs emerge."

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