Oregon counties show diminished COVID-19 spread, but Multnomah County remains ‘high risk’

By Rob Manning (OPB)
Feb. 24, 2021 1:26 a.m.

Only three Oregon counties saw an increase in risk from COVID-19, while 16 saw improvement.

Nine cases out of 100,000 people. That was the difference that kept Multnomah County from being able to advance to “moderate” risk and further relax COVID-19 restrictions in the heart of Oregon’s most populous region. Instead, it is staying in “high” risk with tight limits still in place on most businesses.

It’s a different story nearby. Clackamas and Washington counties managed to corral the virus sufficiently over the last few weeks that they were able to move from “high” to “moderate.”


A total of 16 counties improved their risk levels under Gov. Kate Brown’s announcement Tuesday. In addition to the two large metro-area counties, Hood River and Linn counties also moved into “moderate.”

There are significant business implications between “moderate” and “high” risk for a shopkeeper or restauranteur. For restaurants, it’s the difference between limiting indoor dining to a quarter of capacity and filling half the tables. Retail stores can be 75% full in “moderate” counties, instead of capped at 50%. And outdoor recreation and entertainment venues can double their accommodations, from 75 to 150 people.

Business owners in Portland may be on the cusp of relaxing rules, as Multnomah County’s case numbers and test positivity rates did move in a promising direction. The “cases per 100,000″ just didn’t fall quite enough, dropping from over 140 cases per 100,000 to 108.9. The cutoff to move into “moderate” is 100 cases per 100,000. That mean Multnomah County remains in the “high risk” category for at least the next two weeks. Cases per 100,000 fell to 90.5 in Clackamas and 93.7 in Washington County, by comparison.


Early in the pandemic, the fates of the three metro-area counties were tied together. But when health officials overhauled reopening standards recently, they allowed the counties to change restrictions independent of one another, opening the door to the different restrictions in different parts of the metro region.

Elsewhere in the state, seven counties moved out of “extreme” and into “high” risk, including Lane, Marion and Polk counties in the Willamette Valley. Three counties improved into the “lower risk” category, including Wasco County, which moved all the way from “extreme” risk.

Three rural counties moved backwards, including Douglas County, which fell to “extreme.” The most recent change was met with dismay and concern according to a statement from the Douglas County board of commissioners. The board statement decried what it a “one size fits all” approach to COVID-19 restrictions.

“Your Commissioners continue to be incredibly frustrated with the lack of local input being allowed at the state level, especially when determining the State’s current COVID Risk Level Program, instituted in December 2020,” the Douglas County statement read.

“The State’s new mandated program undeservedly punishes and brutally affects our local businesses ability to operate and stay financially stable during this pandemic.”

Curry and Harney counties were also given tighter restrictions based on their COVID-19 metrics. Both moved from “lower” to “moderate” risk.