The indoor dining ban and other major restrictions under COVID-19 rules will be lifted Friday for 15 counties because a key metric was missed by .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-tier 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 percent to keep the severe limits in place.
The waiver lasted until last week, when the state passed the mark of 300 COVID-19 patients in Oregon hospitals.
The extreme risk restrictions were put in place for Baker, Clackamas, Columbia, Crook, Deschutes, Grant, Jackson, Josephine, Klamath, Lane, Linn, Marion, Multnomah, Polk and Wasco counties.
The new rules didn't last for long.
The period on which the next risk levels were based were 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 minimum percentage growth to keep the extreme risk limits fell short by two patients statewide.
The .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.
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 on Tuesday narrowly rejected a Republican-led effort to force a vote on limiting Brown's pandemic powers.
The 28-27 Tuesday was against a motion to consider a bill that would give the Legislature a larger say in governor's future declarations of emergencies.
“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.
Restrictions for each level can be found at https://sharedsystems.dhsoha.state.or.us/DHSForms/Served/le3461.pdf
A full list of current county risk levels and explanation of data is at https://www.oregon.gov/oha/covid19/Documents/DataReports/Weekly-County-Metrics.pdf