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.

Dear friends and neighbors,

As Multnomah County Chair, my highest priority is to protect everyone in our community, especially our most vulnerable neighbors, by limiting the spread of COVID-19 as much as possible. I know that this is an unsettling and anxious time for many of us, with many unknowns ahead. And though this crisis is unprecedented, our community will persevere together. 

Right now, the most significant and meaningful action we can all take is to stay home unless it is essential. If and when you do leave your home — to take a walk or pick up medication, for example — maintain physical distancing (about six feet) from anyone you don’t live with. It’s natural for us to want to seek comfort in being together during these scary times, but gathering in the ways we’re used to risks undermining the measures we’ve already taken to limit the spread of the virus.

We each have a serious responsibility to each other to follow these guidelines. This disease feeds on people coming together. When older adults and medically vulnerable people (like a friend with a compromised immune system) contract the virus, the risks for severe, if not fatal, complications are great. Slowing the rate at which people become infected and seek medical care — flattening the curve — saves lives and lessens the burden on our health systems. 

At the County, we have continued to take decisive actions to keep community members as safe as we can. 

On Friday, County staff and volunteers set up 250 additional shelter beds at Charles Jordan Community Center and the Oregon Convention Center.
Yesterday, as part of our plan to slow the spread of COVID-19 among people accessing homeless shelters, Multnomah County’s Joint Office of Homeless Services, in coordination with Portland Parks and Recreation and Metro, converted the Charles Jordan Community Center and the Oregon Convention Center into two temporary shelter spaces with 250 beds between them. The more room we have, the better we can give people the space to follow physical distancing guidelines to keep vulnerable people safe.

But extra shelter space and additional beds don’t just pop up. The effort takes volunteers, community-based organizations and staff members who choose to rise up and meet the urgent, unique challenges we face. I give them my deepest thanks and appreciation for moving this essential work forward.

On Tuesday, I announced a moratorium on residential evictions to ensure that nobody would be removed from their home because of, and during, this pandemic. To allow and enforce evictions would subject more people to homelessness during a time when a safe, stable place to stay indoors is a public health imperative.

I also shared that the County would prohibit motels and hotels from refusing occupancy to anyone from County-run shelters whose stay we would pay for during this crisis. We cannot and will not let prejudice and fear keep people from a roof over their heads.

There are no quick fixes to this crisis, but it is the County’s duty to do everything we can to keep people safe, informed and hopeful as long as COVID-19 remains a threat to the health of our residents. I know that some of our actions will have impacts that won’t make everyone happy, but every decision during this extraordinary time is made thoughtfully and rooted in the singular goal of limiting the spread of this virus to keep our community safe.

While the COVID-19 situation changes by the hour, we must prepare for this pandemic to last weeks, if not months. And during that time, it will be absolutely essential to our collective and individual health and well-being to stay connected, even as we stay apart.

Several nights ago, a friend of mine told me some positive news, a welcome development during an immensely challenging week. A couple who lived in her condo complex had slipped a note under every door to let neighbors know that they were both young and healthy and ready to go out to run any errand, pick up necessities and help in whatever way they could. Their wedding plans had been derailed by the COVID-19 pandemic, but they were determined to make the best use of the time they had by connecting with their neighbors.

Hearing this story brought tears to my eyes, but not just because of their generosity and spirit. Their desire to build connection, even as we stay apart, paints a picture of our path forward, at least for the time being. It affirms my belief in our community’s capacity to act both responsibly and compassionately. 

Our ability to limit the impact of this virus will come down to individual behavior and collective action. It will require small and big sacrifices, disrupted routines, and moments of discomfort. And while life may look different once this is over, we will get there because we weathered this crisis together. I know that the residents of Multnomah County are up to the challenge.


Deborah Kafoury

Multnomah County Chair