As Portland processed the reality that it would not be allowed to reopen for at least another week from Gov. Kate Brown's March 23 stay-home order, the Oregon Health Authority reported 142 new cases of COVID-19 in the state, 36 of them in Multnomah County.
Both numbers continue the uptick in cases that is part of the reason Brown abruptly decided Thursday evening to delay approval of Multnomah County's reopening by at least a week, and to halt the movement of all other counties into looser restrictions. (Clackamas County is also experiencing an increase in new cases, so on Thursday its commissioners' voluntarily decided to stay in Phase 1, rather than moving to Phase 2, which would allow larger gatherings and extended business hours for bars and restaurants.)
In a press conference this morning, Dr. Jennifer Vines, Multnomah County's health officer, said the increase in cases, although expected, was part of the reason Brown hit the pause button. She also said state officials were concerned about the increasing rate of hospitalizations for COVID-19, although Vines noted that rate is still far lower than it was in April.
Vines said she did not have any explanation for the cause of the 43 new Multnomah County cases announced Thursday, the county's highest one-day total so far. Vines noted that another factor that concerned state officials was the difficulty in pinpointing the source of infections: About 40% of recent cases could not be traced to a specific source but rather were attributed to "community spread."
Vines also said that because of the scale and duration of protests against racism and police brutality for the past two weeks, county contact tracers are now asking people who test positive whether they've attended protests.
So far, she said the number of people saying they have attended protests is "fewer than five."
Despite the governor's ban on mass gatherings, Vines said it would be inappropriate for county officials to try to dissuade people from attending protests. "Racism is an equally pressing public health issue," Vines said. "We are encouraging [demonstrators] to wear face coverings and not to attend if they are sick."