Fifteen Oregon counties were put back under the extreme risk category for COVID-19 spread on Tuesday as Gov. Kate Brown sought to stem the latest spike in pandemic infections.
The affected counties account for more than half of the state’s 4.3 million population: Baker, Clackamas, Columbia, Crook, Deschutes, Grant, Jackson, Josephine, Klamath, Lane, Linn, Marion, Multnomah, Polk and Wasco.
The new limits will go into effect on Friday.
The extreme risk level shuts down indoor dining, limits crowd sizes, caps entertainment and exercise activities and requires most businesses to close by 11 p.m.
“If we don’t act now, doctors, nurses, hospitals, and other health care providers in Oregon will be stretched to their limits treating severe cases of COVID-19,” Brown said.
Brown changed one part of the extreme risk restrictions, increasing the outdoor capacity limits for bars, restaurants and operations covered by the rules from 50 to 100 people in extreme risk counties.
“We know that the risk of COVID-19 transmission is lower outdoors,” Brown said. “I am urging all Oregonians, if you choose to gather with others, keep it outdoors.”
Brown said health officials would review infection statistics each week and that no county would remain at extreme risk level for more than three weeks.
The risk levels would be reviewed weekly, with the next report on May 4, with possible revisions on May 7 if the numbers rise or fall.
But the statement from Brown’s office also said that if statewide hospitalizations stay above 300 and one or more counties fail to fall out of the extreme risk category, the Oregon Health Authority will review why the numbers haven’t dropped and recommend options for additional action to Brown.
To cushion the financial blow to businesses, which will again have to shut their doors or curtail capacity and hours, Brown said she is working with the Legislature on an emergency $20 million financial aid package in extreme risk counties.
“I recognize the burden these restrictions place on Oregon businesses and working families,” she said. “My goal is to lift these restrictions as soon as it is safely possible, and keep Oregon on the path for lifting most health and safety requirements by the end of June so we can fully reopen our economy.”
Nine counties will be in the high risk level, four at moderate risk and eight at lower risk.
Brown said April 6 that no county would be moved into the extreme risk level as long as fewer than 300 people statewide were hospitalized for COVID-19.
OHA on Monday reported 319 hospitalizations, bringing the three-week hiatus of the most severe restrictions to an end. Tuesday’s total was 328.
Oregon on Friday reported over 1,020 new infections, more than double what it was two weeks ago — the sharpest spike of any state.
After more than a year of being at the lowest end of infections nationwide, Oregon has seen new cases of COVID-19 jump 54% over the past 14 days while infections have dropped 20% overall in the nation.
The key infection measurement for larger counties is cases per 100,000, with Klamath topping the list at 787 and Deschutes at 467.
The spread of more contagious variants is outpacing vaccinations, which now top 1.1 million out of the state’s 4.3 million residents. OHA said the highly contagious B.1.1.7, known as the “UK Variant” because it first appeared in Britain, now accounted for the largest number of new cases in Oregon.
Though only 27% of the 4.3 million people living in Oregon have been completely vaccinated, demand for shots has already started to slow in some parts of the state, OHA reported.
The percentage of residents in any county that have been fully vaccinated varies widely, from 34.4% in Benton County, home of Oregon State University’s main campus, to 19% in Umatilla County in Northeast Oregon.