October 23, 2020

Multnomah County expressed frustration Friday evening after Oregon Gov. Kate Brown announced the Oregon Health Authority has again placed Multnomah County on the Watch List of Oregon counties experiencing an high level of sporadic spread of COVID-19. 

A county is placed on the Watch List whenever its rate of sporadic cases exceeds 50 per 100,000 over a 14-day period and the county reports more than five sporadic cases in the same timeframe. Multnomah County’s sporadic rate was 53, and its sporadic case count was 432 for the two-week period ending Oct. 17

In a statement issued Friday night, Oct. 23, Multnomah County acknowledged its cases were increasing locally, as they are across the state and nation. The increase is expected, as testing increasing and people spend more time together indoors during colder weather.

That’s all the more reason for the state to update its framework to help the Tri-County region become more nimble and consider different approaches.

“We believe the Watch List does little to help the County and Metro region address the virus more effectively, or lift the burden on parents and teachers dealing with closed schools or on businesses struggling with a shuttered or limited marketplace,” the Friday statement read. 

The Watch List was created as part of an early response framework, the County said. And “that needs to adapt to months of learning about how best to balance risk of the virus with other long-term health needs of our constituents, especially among Black, Indigenous and other communities of color.” 

Multnomah County was first placed on the Watch List July 30. 

On Aug. 3, Chair Deborah Kafoury, Washington County Chair Kathryn Harrington and Clackamas County Chair Jim Bernard asked Gov. Kate Brown and the Health Authority Director Pat Allen for a distinct metro-area strategy that would allow our unique region — home to almost half the state’s population — to operate within the statewide metrics. 

In creating the Watch List, the state vows to provide additional support for counties who are added to the list however our requests — requests which would improve the system for more than just Multnomah County — were discounted and dismissed.

Specifically, the Tri-Counties sought system changes and financial support to improve both the public health response and population behavior. Nine weeks later, after 3,127 more county residents tested positive for COVID-19, the State responded by rejecting those requests.

On Friday night, Multnomah County called on the state to reconsider its position and agree to:

  1. Streamline certain parts of COVID19 outbreak reporting.

  2. Look broadly at the effectiveness of case notification and contact tracing in actually slowing spread.

  3. Use their statewide data to inform how business and schools can safely reopen.