Oregon Gov. Kate Brown announced Thursday that Washington County has been approved to begin Phase 1 of her reopening plan beginning Monday, June 1.
“We are especially grateful for the governor’s leadership allowing public health expertise and science to guide our approach as well as taking culturally appropriate actions as we seek to protect the community’s health and safety,” said Washington County Chair Kathryn Harrington. “Each of us has an obligation — to ourselves and to each other — to play by the rules and keep the virus on the decline.”
Phase 1 allows for the limited reopening of restaurants and bars, and personal services such as salons, gyms and malls in Washington County. Gatherings of up to 25 people are allowed as long as distancing requirements are met.
County officials say they are hiring and training 42 new contact tracers ahead of its reopening date Monday, in order to meet the requirement of reaching 95% of close contacts of identified cases within 24 hours. The county says it will continue to hire staff to meet the state’s requirement of having 15 contact tracers per 100,000 people, with at least 30% of the staff being bilingual.
Washington County moving into Phase 1 is a major milestone for the Portland area and the state as a whole, given the county's importance as an economic driver and population center. It's also a turnaround for the county where Oregon's first positive coronavirus case was discovered, nearly three months ago. But officials emphasized caution and support for communities hit particularly hard by the virus.
According to Washington County Health and Human Services Director Marni Kuyl, COVID-19 cases in the county have disproportionately affected the Latinx community with more than 52% of the county’s cases. As of Thursday, Washington County has reported over 700 total cases.
“Many in our Latinx community are being exposed at work, and then bringing home the virus to their families. These are essential workers — they’re the workers who are picking and processing the food that we eat,” Kuyl said.
The Oregon Health Authority confirmed a coronavirus outbreak Thursday at Townsend Farms, a fruit farm and processor based in Multnomah County with other locations in Marion and Washington counties.
Public health officials said those affected are migrant farm workers who traveled to Portland over the Memorial Day weekend, and that the workers are believed to have been exposed to the virus before coming to Oregon.
The outbreak, affecting 48 people as of Thursday, involves Townsend-owned sites in Fairview and Cornelius. An additional 13 tests are still pending at the Oregon State Public Health Laboratory.
According to Kuyl, 220 workers at Townsend’s Washington County farms have been tested thus far. The county is working with the state to isolate workers who have tested positive.
“I want to assure you this will not affect our reopening — our staff is working very closely with the farm to isolate workers who are positive and limit the spread to others,” Kuyl said.
Those who test positive with COVID-19 are asked to quarantine with the entirety of their household for at least 14 days. The county will provide support and resources to these families who are unable to meet essential needs such as getting groceries.
Multnomah County is the only county in Oregon that has not applied for reopening. Officials in Oregon’s most populous county plan to apply for Phase 1 of the governor’s plan on June 5, with the expectation of opening a week later. All other counties in the state have been approved to begin Phase 1.