Umatilla, Morrow counties apply for Phase 2

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Umatilla County Health

Umatilla County Public Health

HEPPNER — Officials in Umatilla and Morrow counties believe their counties are ready for the next phase of reopening.

Both counties applied on Monday, June 1, to enter Phase 2 of Gov. Kate Brown’s reopening plans for Oregon. No other Oregon county is currently in Phase 2.

“The request was a letter to indicate we have met the benchmark and that we had not seen a huge increase in the last 21 days, and also that we were able ... to be aggressive with any new cases,” Morrow County Commissioner Melissa Lindsay said.

In order to apply for Phase 2 of reopening, counties must meet a set of criteria placed by Brown, including access to personal protective equipment for first responders and trained contact tracers in order to adequately track and trace possible COVID-19 cases and contaminations, as well as a decline in overall COVID-19 cases.

Lindsay said Morrow County had been holding steady at 12 confirmed cases until a 13th case was announced June 1. All of the confirmed cases in the county have been traced, contacted and followed up on, according to the application letter filed by the board of commissioners.

The application comes following “a successful Phase 1 for 21 days,” according to the application letter.

“Our health department is exceeding what the state requires in the way we are able to trace,” Lindsay said. “I think that’s really important. If we can trace and isolate quickly anyone that may have been exposed or is sick, that’s going to be the key.”

Once in Phase 2, counties will be able to expand the size of gatherings and allow for congregation and office work, according to Brown’s website. Details and specifics for Phase 2 reopening is in the process and will continue to develop as more information from Phase 1 is collected.

“We’ve had successes, but it’s still hard to tell what the next phase will bring,” Lindsay said. “I think people are being cautious and careful and really smart. Our hospital and our region are prepared for a small capacity uptick and we’ll watch it very carefully.”

Umatilla County Commissioner George Murdock said the county submitted its official application at noon on June 1.

“There’s no magical time when we’ll know for sure,” Murdock said of the reopening pace. “But right now, all the data points and information we have is pointing to being ready for Phase 2.”

Murdock said the state’s Phase 2 requirements of counties were fairly straightforward, though the individual business sector guidelines are more complex and are expected to be addressed by the state in greater detail later this week.

Umatilla and Morrow counties were frustrated after each had approval of their Phase 1 applications delayed by the state for a number of hours on May 15, and Murdock said it’s unknown when decisions and announcements will be made about the latest round of applications. But he’s hoping for sooner rather than later.

“If we want to move into it by (June 6), they’re going to have to make the decision in the next few days,” he said.

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