Multnomah County will submit its proposal for lifting restrictions on public life June 5, Chair Deborah Kafoury announced Wednesday, May 27, during a briefing on the County’s progress toward meeting public health metrics established to reduce the risk of future community-wide outbreaks of COVID-19.
The County and its health and social services partners have enough personal protective equipment available. Case counts are holding steady, both overall and for Black, Indigenous and other communities of color that face disproportionate rates of infection and complications.
The County is working with safety net clinics, hospitals and community health partners to make access to testing more equitable. And disease detectives are now reaching nearly all new cases within 24 hours of receiving positive test results.
That leaves Public Health leaders to focus on just two outstanding metrics going forward — establishing access to adequate testing for underserved communities, and deploying a growing team of culturally competent contact tracers.
“By following these steps, we believe that Multnomah County will be ready to turn in our application to reopen on June 5,” Kafoury said. “On June 10, we’ll evaluate any developments in the dashboard. And if all trends are positive, we will, with State approval, move to Phase 1 reopening on Friday, June 12.”
Public Health Director Rachael Banks announced the County’s Communicable Disease Services team is now meeting the state’s goal of reaching out to 95 percent of new cases within 24 hours. That’s with a team of 58 people who conduct case investigations and reach out to close contacts of those who test positive. Fifty-one of those employees were brought on because of COVID-19, through extensive internal hiring and a recruitment process aimed at public health graduate students in their last term of school.
Tuesday the County posted public job listings for additional disease intervention specialists, case investigators, and contact tracers with the goal of having a team of up to 130 in the event of a future wave of illness.
Banks said the team will continue to expand as Public Health contracts with community-based organizations to extend wrap-around services to vulnerable individuals who public health asks to isolate at home.
Banks also detailed a broader reopening framework that centers Black, Indigenous and People of Color in how the County plans to move forward with each of the state’s core criteria.
“If we’re truly leading inclusively with race, we have to look at what each of these goals means for those who have been and are marginalized in our community,” Banks said, “specifically communities of color who have been hardest hit around our nation and who experience disproportionate disease burden here in Multnomah County.”
That work was developed in partnership with community groups and leaders from communities of color. It commits the County to expand culturally appropriate testing and add partnerships with culturally specific community health workers and organizations. The County also will commit to providing culturally appropriate isolation strategies and ensuring that culturally specific organizations have adequate supplies of protective gear.
“From the first COVID-19 case in Oregon, I wanted to keep as many people alive as possible. And together, we’ve done that. I wish, more than anything that we could declare victory and move on,” Chair Kafoury said. “But without a vaccine, we can’t.”
Kafoury cautioned that without taking the time to get reopening right, without making sure those most at risk are most protected, the entire community risks falling victim to a future wave of COVID-19.
Precise strategies that center the needs of lower-income workers, front-line workers, individuals with chronic health conditions, seniors and people of color, she said, will prepare Public Health to monitor and respond to outbreaks in any pocket of our community.
“The state’s prerequisites and the County’s own thresholds have provided us with a pathway to readiness. And you can see from the dashboard that we’re very close to meeting the state’s criteria,” Kafoury said Wednesday. “Many people are more than ready. So getting these public health strategies in place before we reopen will ensure that, when we do, our entire community will be better prepared for the challenges that lie ahead.”
Once a county plan is approved, counties can begin reopening, with conditions and limits:
Salons, massage businesses, non-medical spas
Fitness centers and gyms
Malls and businesses within malls
After 21 days in Phase I, counties continuing to meet the prerequisites may apply to further lift restrictions on:
Pools and spas
Visitation to nursing homes and long-term care facilities
Concerts, conventions, festivals, live audience sports won’t be possible until a reliable treatment or prevention is available. It is unknown at this time when this will be. All large gatherings should be canceled or significantly modified through at least September.