Health

Live updates: Malheur County’s rising COVID-19 cases send it back to Phase 1

By Staff (OPB)
Aug. 13, 2020 1:25 p.m. Updated: Aug. 14, 2020 12:57 a.m.

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown announced Thursday afternoon that Malheur County will have to tighten restrictions due to its growing struggle with COVID-19. The nearly 10,000-square mile county in the state’s southeastern corner is reporting an alarming 266 cases per 10,000 people. Its test positivity rate has been consistently above 20%, and was at nearly 27% on Aug. 2, putting it at five times the state average and well above public health goals.

“Over the past month, COVID-19 cases in Malheur County have risen so much that restrictions must be put back in place or we risk further illnesses and death in the region,” Brown said.

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Indeed, earlier Thursday, the Oregon Health Authority reported an 83-year-old woman in Malheur County was among the latest coronavirus fatalities. She died of the virus on Aug. 10, after testing positive five days earlier. Her death brings to 15 the number of people who have died of the virus in the largely rural county, second only to Umatilla County in eastern Oregon.

Returning to Phase 1 means the cancellation of recreational sports and closure of facilities like swimming pools, bowling alleys and movie theaters. Restaurants and bars are allowed to offer dine-in service, but only until 10 p.m. Social gatherings can’t exceed 50 people, indoors or outdoors.

The governor’s announcement said the move to Phase 1 will take effect on Monday, Aug. 17 and will last “at least 21 days.”

Malheur joins a handful of other counties at the same stage, including Clackamas, Lincoln, Morrow, Multnomah and Washington counties.

West Coast Conference, Big Sky postpone fall athletics

The coronavirus pandemic has shut down competitive athletics for more colleges in the region, including the University of Portland, Portland State and Gonzaga. West Coast Conference and Big Sky officials announced Thursday that their leagues will postpone their fall sports seasons due to concerns about COVID-19.

“The welfare of the great student-athletes of the West Coast Conference is and always will be the guiding principle in our discussions and why we ultimately arrived at this difficult decision,” said University of San Diego President James T. Harris, the chair of the WCC Presidents’ Council in a statement on the WCC’s web site.

The decision was met with support at University of Portland.

"This decision is unequivocally the right one as there was no path forward to start seasons in a safe manner on September 24," said Portland Vice President for Athletics Scott Leykam in a statement released Thursday.

Statements from the WCC and UP suggest the fall sports season would be played next spring, but they don’t offer details.

“The Conference intends to explore various models for conducting WCC competition in the fall sports of men’s and women’s cross country, men’s and women’s soccer and women’s volleyball in the spring of 2021,” said a WCC statement.

However, the WCC said it is still planning to run winter sports, particularly men’s and women’s basketball, this winter. The Big Sky said it will make decisions regarding winter sports at a later date.

The postponement of fall sports follows a similar decision this week by the Pac-12.

Nearly 1/3 of Oregon’s new COVID-19 cases in Multnomah County

The Oregon Health Authority reported 294 new confirmed and presumptive cases of COVID-19 on Thursday, including 84 in Multnomah County. The next closest case total was Washington County, which reported 36 new cases. The additional cases bring the state total to 22,300.

Oregon reported eight coronavirus-related deaths, pushing the total to 383 since the start of the pandemic. The reported deaths occurred between Aug. 7-11, and involved people who ranged in age from 55 to 85. All of the people who died had “underlying health conditions” with one exception — an 80 year-old woman who died Aug. 9 in Clackamas County. In her case, OHA said “More information about presence of underlying conditions [...] is being determined.”

Related: COVID-19 by the numbers

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The phantom $300 in extra unemployment benefits

Oregonians receiving unemployment benefits could soon see an extra $300 a week — or they might not.

President Trump redirected $44 billion in disaster relief funds to pay for the program, but that pot of money may not last long.

And state unemployment officials have been left to wonder who foots the bill for that weekly supplement when federal money dries up.

Related: Oregonians might receive an extra $300 in weekly unemployment benefits. Or not.

Thousands of Southwest Washington students to start year online

Tens of thousands of Southwest Washington students will officially start their school years remotely this fall, following decisions this week by several school districts.

Students in Battle Ground, Camas, Kelso, Longview, Vancouver and Washougal are among those who saw their districts formalize reopening plans after weeks of deliberating. Those districts decided they won’t return to classrooms until the coronavirus pandemic lessens.

“We’re very hopeful it’s a temporary decision,” said Troy McCoy, president of Battle Ground School District’s board of directors. “But I’ve given up making predictions about COVID-19. Like my smart children, it always seems to prove me wrong.”

Related: Remote learning confirmed for thousands of Washington students

Multnomah Falls reopens to visitors, with restrictions

The tallest waterfall in Oregon is easily accessible from Interstate 84 and is routinely crowded with groups of hikers, amateur photographers and tourists. That made Multnomah Falls, nestled in the Columbia River Gorge, a prime spot for the spread of the coronavirus and forced officials to close it and its parking areas to the public in the spring. Now, U.S. Forest Service officials are ready to begin reopening it.

The reopening will take place in two phases, with Phase 1 in place now. Under Phase 1, visitors will be allowed to the attraction on a first-come, first-served basis and capped at 300 people between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. PT daily. Visitors must check-in and wait in a socially distanced line from the parking lot leading to the viewing platform at the bottom of the waterfall, just behind the lodge.

Phase 2, which is expected to be implemented in a few weeks, will involve an online ticketing system allowing up to 300 visitors per hour. People will need to make reservations at least one day in advance. Face coverings are required for all visitors under both phases of the reopening.

The Benson Bridge viewpoint and the trail leading to the top of Multnomah Falls will remain closed under the tiered reopening plan.

Related: Multnomah Falls reopens to the public with coronavirus rules

Oregon advises parents to catch children up on vaccines

Oregon health officials are encouraging parents to catch their children up on their vaccines after months of canceled doctors’ appointments due to the coronavirus pandemic. The Oregon Health Authority says many children and teenagers have fallen behind on their vaccine schedule as a result and officials are worried about outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases amid a global pandemic.

Oregon experienced its largest outbreak of measles in more than 20 years last August, partly due to a growing trend to not vaccinate children against the disease.

The Oregon Health Authority advises parents to call their child’s health care provider to find out if they can bring their child in for vaccinations and learn what precautions are being taken at the office to keep everyone safe from COVID-19. It notes that some providers are offering drive-up services.

Families who cannot afford to vaccinate their children due to the economic fallout of the coronavirus pandemic are encouraged to call 211 to learn about the free Vaccines for Children program. Children under 19 may also be eligible to receive health insurance under the Oregon Health Plan. Check out OHP.Oregon.gov to find out more.

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