March 14: Multnomah County's response to the COVID-19 pandemic
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.
Yesterday evening, I joined several Multnomah County leaders to share the latest updates about the County’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic in our community. It’s hard to believe, but it’s only been three days since I signed a declaration of emergency in Multnomah County, and just four days since my office was notified of the County’s first presumptive positive case of coronavirus.
But in these uncertain times, two things we can be sure of are change and the paramount importance of responding quickly and wisely.
Perhaps the most significant announcement we made yesterday was of the immediate closure of all 19 Multnomah County library branches. As County library director Vailey Oehlke said, this decision “is an extraordinary measure” that has “never happened in modern times.” Our library system, the fourth-busiest in the country, provides critical and enriching services to neighbors in all corners of our community every day
Still, the temporary closures are in the best interest of our community’s health and safety.
We are in uncharted waters and no decision is made lightly. This is a virus that before January, no one in this country had ever seen. No one is immune to it. And no part of our community is left unaffected.
The impacts of this pandemic, and the statewide guidelines we’re following to stem it, will be felt sharpest locally. In this crisis, Multnomah County will continue to focus on the health and well-being of our community members. Under our declaration of emergency, we have been urgently working to ensure our most vital services have the resources and staffing to continue operating.
These are extraordinarily trying times. I understand the anxiety and worry many of you are feeling right now.
But I know that Multnomah County and our community will rise to the many challenges coming our way. That we will protect the most vulnerable among us by adhering to social distancing measures. That we’ll find creative ways to remain connected. That we will look out for each other and find ways to lift each other’s spirits.
Community partners are already taking action to ease burdens where they can:
The Portland Water Bureau will not disconnect water service for non-payment of sewer, stormwater and water bills.
Portland General Electric, Pacific Power and NW Natural will suspend late fees and shutoffs.
Comcast and Charter are offering free internet access to eligible households, among other measures, to help people stay connected.
Local foundations, led by The Oregon Community Foundation, have created a COVID-19 Pooled Fund that will provide urgent grant funding to community-based organizations providing direct services to people impacted by the COVID-19 outbreak.
Multnomah County will keep winter shelter beds open and increase the number of motel vouchers to limit overcrowding in shelter settings. Wednesday’s emergency declaration gives the County the flexibility and means we need to keep residents as safe and healthy as possible during this public health challenge.
And right now, stakeholders are discussing ways to ensure people continue to have access to food, child care, rental assistance and other critical resources they need while our everyday routines are disrupted.
Multnomah County has always been a strong, resilient place. Now is the time to lean into empathy, compassion and community — the values that make me especially proud to be the chair of this County. We are in this together and we will get through this together.
Multnomah County Chair