June 19: Entering Phase 1 of reopening: good news, great responsibility

For the most up-to-date information about Multnomah County's COVID-19 response, please check our COVID-19 website, and the County’s Twitter and Facebook channels, often. You can also contact my office if you have any other questions.

Dear friends and neighbors,

Today, Multnomah County enters Phase 1 of reopening.

Restaurants and bars can now provide seated service, personal service providers can see clients by appointment, and gyms and fitness centers can reopen. Groups of up to 25 people can gather to socialize, play, worship or engage in recreation. Physical distancing will be required for all of these settings to ensure that people can gather as safely as possible. 

This is good news for our community.

But our reopening also comes with a great sense of responsibility and duty to each other.

While Multnomah County has taken steps to support residents safely moving around and throughout the county, we still need to practice care and caution, now more than ever. As you visit public spaces and businesses, please:

  • Wash your hands well and often, use hand sanitizer, and avoid touching your face.
  • Wear a face covering. Starting June 24, this will be mandatory for residents of Multnomah County and six other Oregon counties (Clackamas, Washington, Hood River, Lincoln, Marion and Polk) when they are indoors in a space shared by other members of the public.
  • Keep at least six feet of space between yourself and anyone not in your immediate household.
  • If you feel ill, please stay home.
  • Continue limiting close contact with people outside your household.
  • Minimize non-essential travel whenever possible.

I want to stress that Multnomah County’s Phase 1 reopening doesn’t signal the end of COVID-19 in our community, or even the beginning of the end. It is, perhaps, the beginning of something new altogether, at least until a vaccine or cure is made widely available to all people. From the moment this virus touched our community, my primary goal has been to save lives and slow the spread — and that dedication continues as we enter this next chapter. But we all must come together as a community that’s committed to looking out for and supporting each other’s health and safety.

I know that we can do it.

Since late March, the people of Multnomah County have made immense sacrifices to stay home as much as possible in order to slow the spread of the virus. The County has used that time to build up an infrastructure that has allowed us to both respond to the community’s needs equitably and comprehensively, and puts us in the best position to manage the ongoing threat of COVID-19. 

Because we know that as we reopen, positive cases will rise. But how well we mitigate its spread is up to us. As Public Health Director Rachael Banks shared with the Board of Commissioners yesterday, “Our public health response tools are ready, but minimizing hospitalizations and deaths from the virus will depend on all of us — individuals, businesses, and community groups — continuing to take precautions.”

I believe that the vast majority of County residents will engage with reopened businesses and public spaces in a way that honors the sacrifices we’ve endured to get this far.

Multnomah County has proceeded strategically and cautiously to arrive at this point, and we are ready to move forward in a way that ensures our gradual reopening and subsequent recovery from the impacts of COVID-19 do not leave behind already-vulnerable communities, or perpetuate the disproportionate economic and health disparities that placed them at risk in the first place. The County’s reopening plan recognizes and prioritizes those who have been disproportionately put in harm’s way by systemic racism and oppression, namely Black, Indigenous and other communities of color. We’re committed to making sure that every part of our community experiences and benefits from our gradual reopening safely.

Our reopening is a significant and exciting step forward, but it is most certainly not a return to business as usual. We need to keep doing what we know will slow and stop the spread of the virus. 

Thank you all for your patience, for your commitment to keeping each other safe and for continuing to persevere through this challenge of our lifetimes.

Sincerely,

Deborah Kafoury
Multnomah County Chair

P.S. It’s important for me to acknowledge that today is Juneteenth, which celebrates the day in 1865 that news of the abolition of slavery reached enslaved people in Texas more than two years after President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation. But it also is a day to recognize Black liberation: liberation that was delayed in 1865 and remains deferred for millions of Black Americans by systemic oppression and racism, the progress that has been made since emancipation in the face of structural inequities, and the resilience and strength of Black people who continue to fight for true and full liberation. 

Last week, I designated Juneteenth a paid County holiday to fully acknowledge the day’s meaning and significance in our country’s history, the Black community and especially for our Black employees. And yesterday, the Board of County Commissioners proclaimed June 19 Juneteenth Day in Multnomah County. Read about the deeply moving testimony we heard here.

Caring for our community during crisis: Highlights

County employees and programs have made incredible efforts since March to care for community members and keep our residents as safe as possible in the midst of this global pandemic. Some highlights include:

  • Our neighbors experiencing homelessness are among the most at risk of severe health consequences from COVID-19. So the Joint Office of Homeless Services and the Emergency Operations Center quickly worked together to spread 375 of our shelter system beds across four temporary shelter sites to follow physical distancing guidelines. We’ve since shifted even further, moving one of those temporary shelters to a motel. Learn more about how we’ve cared for community members experiencing homelessness here
     
  • Community volunteers provide sack lunches for community outreach workers to distribute.Since the pandemic started, the County and its partners have also stepped up in significant ways to meet the daily needs of our residents. More than 14,000 households have received groceries at SUN School sites, while more than 3,000 have picked up free groceries at Bienstar’s Mercado. Nearly 67,000 meals have been delivered to homebound older adults, while Stoor to Door has made almost 5,000 grocery deliveries. 

    In addition to the tens of thousands of meals the County is paying traditional homelessness services providers to distribute during this pandemic, the Joint Office has partnered with several nonprofits and even Lincoln HIgh School families to provide more than 13,000 sack lunches for community outreach workers to share. Read about that here.
     
  • Our Emergency Operations Center has also facilitated the distribution of 5.5 million pieces of personal protective equipment to healthcare providers and community-based organizations. More than 700,000 pieces of PPE have come to us through donations from people and groups across the region, and I could not be more proud of or thankful for how swiftly and generously our community stepped up to support those who needed this critical gear. Watch a video spotlighting one such donation here.

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