The indoor dining ban and other major restrictions under COVID-19 rules will be lifted Friday for 15 counties — including Deschutes and Crook — because a key metric was missed by 0.1%.
Gov. Kate Brown announced late Tuesday that 15 counties put on the extreme risk level for spread of the virus — the highest of the four risk levels — could operate under the high risk standards instead.
“Oregon no longer meets the statewide metrics,” Brown said in a statement.
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. Visits to residents of nursing homes are curtailed. Under high risk, restaurants can offer indoor dining and other restrictions are loosened.
Brown’s statement ended a confusing delay of several hours beyond the normal release of risk level ratings.
In early April, when infections were on the wane, Brown announced that counties that would normally be in the extreme risk level could stay at the high risk level as long as hospitalizations statewide didn’t top 300. The policy also required that hospitalizations rise more than 15% to keep the severe limits in place.
The period on which risk levels will be based beginning Friday is from April 18 to May 1. Oregon saw a statewide rise in infections. The state had 11,266 cases — 265.9 per 100,000. Positive tests made up 6.4% of all results.
But on Tuesday, hospitals reported 345 COVID-19 patients, and the percentage growth of hospitalizations was pegged at 14.9%.
The 0.1% miss led to a major policy U-turn.
“Based on today’s numbers, I am keeping my commitment to Oregonians,” Brown said.
As of Friday, no counties will be under extreme risk limits. The new numbers put 24 counties at high risk, four at moderate risk, and eight at lower risk.
Under the original criteria, large counties had to have less than 200 cases per 100,000 residents to stay out of the extreme risk category.
Deschutes County trailed only Klamath County for most COVID-19 cases per 100,000 residents among the state’s largest counties.
Deschutes County’s infection indicators were more than double the extreme threshold, with 546.6 cases per 100,000, up from 467.4 in the prior reporting period.
Klamath County’s 891.7 topped the list.
Deschutes County’s percentage of positive tests rose to 8.8% from 8.1%.
Crook County also remained well above the extreme risk threshold.
Crook County has 123 cases over the period, up from 106 in the previous period. It’s 524.7 cases per 100,000 rose from 452.2 previously. The positive test rate of 9.3% was up from 8.3%.
Jefferson County reported 69 COVID-19 cases during the period, 289.4 per 100,000 residents. It previously recorded 213.9 cases.
But Jefferson County’s test results fell from 9.2% positive to 8.9% positive.
Oregon Health Authority projections show the state can handle the current rate of demand for hospital beds.
Brown also said she did not expect the state to move back to the extreme level again at any point. The state is expecting a major increase in vaccine shipments from the federal government.
“Vaccinations are still our best path to protecting our loved ones, and staying on track to fully reopen our economy by the end of June,” Brown said
Political friction in Oregon has increased with Brown’s extreme risk decision and again extending her emergency powers, first put in place in March 2020, through at least June 28.
In the most concrete bid to curb Brown’s authority, the House voted 28-27 Tuesday against a motion to consider a bill that would give the Legislature a larger say in governors’ declarations of emergency.
“Oregonians deserve a balance of power between their separate branches of government again,” said House Minority Leader Christine Drazan, R-Canby.
Brown and the Oregon Health Authority Director Pat Allen have pointed to Oregon’s safety during the pandemic that has killed over 575,000 Americans. Oregon has had the third lowest per-capita number of cases in the nation, at 4,432 per 100,000 during the entire pandemic.
Brown will next announce any revisions in risk levels on May 11.