Insider Index: Special COVID-19 edition

COURTESY CDC -

Fifteen Oregon counties were moved up to the extreme risk category for COVID-19 spread on Tuesday as Gov. Kate Brown sought to stem a 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, April 30.

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 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.

But the statement said that if statewide hospitalizations stay above 300 and one or more counties fail to drop out of the extreme risk category, more action could be taken. OHA would review why the numbers haven't fallen under the thresholds 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 for businesses 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 less than 300 people statewide were hospitalized for COVID-19.

OHA on Monday reported 319 cases, 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 Oregonians  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 the northeast of Oregon.

COVID-19 Risk Levels

(effective April 30)

Lower Risk (8)

Gilliam

Harney

Lake

Morrow

Sherman

Union

Wallowa

Wheeler

Moderate Risk (4)

Curry

Douglas (Moved from High)

Malheur (Moved from Lower)

Tillamook (Moved from High)

High Risk (9)

Benton

Clatsop

Coos

Hood River (Moved from Moderate)

Jefferson

Lincoln

Washington

Umatilla (Moved from Moderate)

Yamhill

Extreme Risk (15)

Baker (Moved from High)

Clackamas (Moved from High)

Columbia (Moved from High)

Crook (Moved from High)

Deschutes (Moved from High)

Grant (Moved from Lower)

Jackson (Moved from High)

Josephine (Moved from High)

Klamath (Moved from High)

Lane (Moved from High)

Linn (Moved from High)

Marion (Moved from High)

Multnomah (Moved from High)

Polk (Moved from High)

Wasco (Moved from High)

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