PENDLETION — Umatilla and Morrow Counties are moving backward in the state's reopening plans.
In an effort to stem the rising tide of COVID-19 cases in the counties, Gov. Kate Brown is sending Umatilla County back to the Stay Home, Save Lives baseline phase, and Morrow County back to Phase 1.
“COVID-19 has spread dramatically in both Umatilla and Morrow Counties for the past month,” Brown stated in a press release. “My heart goes out to the families in Morrow County, Umatilla County, and the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation who have been impacted by this disease.”
In Umatilla County, only essential businesses such as banks, grocery stores and pharmacies will remain open and restaurants move to a takeout only model, while salons, barbers and other personal care services will need to close.
While in Phase 1, recreational and youth sports, movie theaters, bowling alleys, pools and arcades must close in Morrow County. Nonessential local travel will be allowed, personal service businesses are allowed to operate with health and safety measures in place, and restaurants and bars are open for dine-in service until 10 p.m.
Both moves go into effect at noon Friday, July 31.
Brown first announced the decision on Umatilla County Thursday, July 30, in a letter to Umatilla County Commissioner John Shafer. She confirmed the move in a press release later that evening.
“Unfortunately, we are seeing significant growth in the prevalence of COVID-19 in your county,” Brown's letter said. “After careful review of data today with the Oregon Health Authority, I have made the decision to move Umatilla County back to the 'Stay Home, Save Lives' baseline phase.”
The counties are expected to stay in their new phases for 21 days before reapplying to move up, but, according to the letter, Brown said they will reevaluate the situation weekly and communicate with county officials if anything changes.
"We are being sent back to Baseline," Shafer said in an email. "This is below Phase I. We will not be able to walk this one back like the last time. This is more strict than Phase I."
Umatilla County reported 50 new positive cases on July 30, bringing the total to 1,929 cases. According to the Oregon Health Authority, Umatilla County's 234.4 cases per 10,000 people is the most in the entire state and the county has reported an average of 51 new cases per day over the last two weeks.
According to a press release, Morrow County is also among the state's highest totals per capita with 213 cases per 10,000 people, has a positive test rate of 30% and has reported seven new cases per day over the last week.
The state also highlighted that each county's "sporadic cases," those which can't be traced to a known source, are at 45% and 52%, respectively.
“After weeks of trying other measures to get the disease under control, our only option is to temporarily close certain businesses and other community amenities,” Brown stated in the release. “I am hopeful that these measures will help the community control the spread of COVID-19 quickly.”
This marks the first time since the state began lifting COVID-19 restrictions that counties have been sent back in phases, and comes on the same day that Union and Lincoln counties were removed from the state's watch list.