As COVID-19 Case Count in Oregon Increases, Washington County Asks Governor to “Decouple” It From Multnomah

After allowing Oregon’s biggest counties to open when each was ready, Gov. Kate Brown has now yoked them together.

As the COVID-19 case count in Oregon continues to increase (524 new cases in the past two days) the once-united front among Oregon's three largest counties is fragmenting.

On June 25, the five-member Washington County Board of Commissioners wrote  to Gov. Kate Brown asking her to "consider amending your regional 'coupling' of Washington, Clackamas and Multnomah counties."

Brown earlier determined that the state's largest three counties should proceed with the later stages of the reopening process in lockstep, even though Clackamas and Washington counties began Phase 1 much earlier than Multnomah County, the last in the state to reopen.

"In the coming weeks, as our region enters Phase 2, Washington County or one of our neighboring jurisdictions may backslide on one or more of the criteria set forth by your office," the Washington County commissioners wrote June 25.

"We can't state strongly enough that a blanket policy that doesn't provide the public health professionals the continued opportunity to consider the facts presented at the time is a mistake.

"We ask that you consider the situation and circumstances of each county, based on the public health criteria you set forth, before you call for a regionwide shutdown."

The Clackamas County Board of Commissioners made a similar request June 18, but Brown denied it, saying that in view of the increasing spread of the virus, all three counties would have to remain in Phase 1 until July 10 at the earliest.

Brown's spokesman Charles Boyle says the answer is the same for Washington County: There is too much interconnectedness and too many risks to allow the counties to move at different speeds.

"Gov. Brown has been clear: Given the current state of COVID-19 in the Portland metro tri-county region, as well as the practical reality that residents of one county often work in or frequent the other counties, the public health indicators of the three counties will be evaluated as one region, and the region will move forward (or not) in the reopening process together," Boyle said in a statement.

"The fact is that the tri-county region is seeing climbing case counts, as well as significant congregate care outbreaks. If county leaders and residents want businesses to stay open, we need everyone to do their part to stop the spread of this disease by wearing face coverings and maintaining 6 feet of distance in public, and avoiding large social gatherings.

"If Oregonians want their local shops, restaurants and cafes to stay open, they need to do more to stop COVID-19 from spreading. We can all make a difference. Gov. Brown is asking Oregonians to take these precautions seriously. If we do not take these steps to keep each other safe, then we will see hospitalizations rise rapidly. We are seeing other states already becoming overwhelmed by increasing cases and hospitalizations. Texas and Florida this week began closing businesses again.

"If county leaders want to see businesses in the tri-county region stay open and proceed further with reopening, they need to be doing everything they can to ensure face covering requirements are being followed in their counties."