Multnomah County announced today that all county libraries will be closed until further notice to help stop the spread of the coronavirus.

“Closing public libraries in Multnomah County like this is an extraordinary measure. It’s never happened in modern times,” said Multnomah County library director Vailey Oehlke.

Multnomah County library director Vailey Oehlke speaks at a press conference announcing the library's closure to prevent the spread of coronavirus on March 13, 2019, in Portland, Oregon.

Multnomah County library director Vailey Oehlke speaks at a press conference announcing the library’s closure to prevent the spread of coronavirus on March 13, 2019, in Portland, Oregon.

Jonathan Levinson

Oehlke said the decision was made under the guidance of the county health department and happened fast. As recently as earlier today the libraries were expected to stay open.

“I would suggest that’s simply an indication of how quickly things are moving,” Oehlke said. “With the announcement by [Portland Public Schools], and just the general direction that the local institutions as well as some of our colleagues across the country are taking, it just seemed like the prudent thing to do.”

Oehlke said patrons should not return materials and that late fees will be eliminated during the closure. Residents will continue to have access to online resources such as books, downloadable audio books and streaming music and video through the library’s website.

Over 2 million people used WiFi at Multnomah County libraries last year and Oehlke said WiFi will continue to be accessible from outside library locations during their regular open hours.

Libraries are an important if unofficial part of the safety net for people experiencing homelessness. Many people sleeping outdoors use the Multnomah County libraries as a place to stay warm and dry, charge cellphones, connect to the internet and use the restroom.