covid sign

A sign near the entrance of the Sunriver Country Store details protocols Friday to help reduce the spread of COVID-19.

Oregon's new COVID-19 risk levels show improving conditions around the state as officials expect to pass the one million shot mark on vaccinations.

"We are seeing the light at the end of the tunnel get a little brighter," Gov. Kate Brown said Tuesday in a statement.

Counties are assigned one of four risk levels based on the spread of COVID-19 infections: extreme, high, moderate and lower. The higher the level, the more restrictions on activities, businesses and gatherings.

The new risk levels will go into effect Friday. 

Overall, the news was good as none of the state's 10 most populous counties is in the extreme risk category and just three are high. The rest are moderate or lower risk.

In January, 24 out of the state's 36 counties were rated as extreme risk, including most of the population centers in Oregon.

All three Portland metro counties remained in the moderate risk category.

The three-county Central Oregon area saw Deschutes County's numbers of cases and infection rates continue to drop, just not enough to move it into the lower risk category. Jefferson County, which up to a month ago had some of the worst infection numbers in the state, improved enough to drop two levels, from high to lower. Crook County saw a slight uptick in numbers, but not enough to move it out of its lower risk rating.

Northeastern Oregon counties were mostly stable. Baker County moved from moderate to lower risk, joining Morrow, Gilliam and Wallowa, which were already in the least restrictive category.

Umatilla County's numbers rose slightly, but it retained its high risk level rating.  Union County numbers were lower, but it remains at moderate risk.

Grant County's numbers were sharply up, moving it from the lower to moderate risk. 

In the northwest coast, four counties were all in the moderate risk level, but got there in different ways. In Clatsop and Lincoln counties, rising indicators moved them up from lower, while Columbia County's improvement dropped it from high. Tillamook County remained the same.

Statewide, fourteen counties are in the lower risk level. Jefferson County dropped two levels, while Lane and Baker counties dropped one.

Fourteen counties were at moderate risk level, with increases in infection cases and rates pushing Clatsop, Grant and Lincoln up from lower. Columbia and Polk dropped from high. 

Six counties are at high risk. Douglas County moved to high after an extended period at the extreme risk level.

Two counties are at extreme risk. Coos County's rising numbers moved it up from high to extreme, where it joined neighboring Curry County. 

The Oregon Health Authority sees COVID-19 rates in southwestern Oregon as troublesome. No county that is west of the Cascades and south of the Willamette Valley is at better than high risk and many are in or just exited extreme risk.

During testimony last week before the House Subcommittee on COVID-19, OHA Director Pat Allen said the issue wasn't just vaccine hesitancy, but "vaccine obstinacy."

Allen said six months of data from vaccination efforts show demand "varies wildly" around the state.

While vaccination appointments are booked weeks in advance in most areas, southwest Oregon hasn't matched its demand with its supply. Allen said a recent mass vaccination event in Douglas County did not come close to filling its eligible slots for shots.

"It's an indication they are running out of people who are interested in being vaccinated," Allen said.

A new OHA rule will grant a two-week grace period to counties that reduced their risk level in the prior period but rebounded with higher numbers in the next period.

Instead of immediately returning to the more restrictive rules, the counties will get a two-week "caution" period to try to get their numbers down again. If they are unsuccessful, then OHA will move the county up at the next risk level adjustment.

This week, the caution period was granted to two counties: Josephine County's cases and infection rate should move it from high risk to extreme risk. Klamath County's worsening infections were enough to move it from moderate risk to high risk. Both counties will retain their current level and will have their status reassessed at the next round.

The next revision of risk levels will be announced April 6 and will go into effect April 9.


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