March 11: Reflecting on the one-year anniversary of COVID-19 in our community with grief, gratitude and hope

Dear friends and neighbors,A year ago yesterday, the first case of COVID-19 was confirmed in Multnomah County. Every day since, our community has fought to keep one another safe, to keep our hospitals running, our kids learning, our businesses going and our households unharmed amid a world-changing pandemic.

Families have seen loved ones become ill, and 554 people have died. We mourn their loss. And we know the disruption and uncertainty of these last 12 months has caused isolation, anxiety, and at times, despair.

Still, we have endured. I’m proud of all the Multnomah County employees who have worked tirelessly to support our neighbors. In the last year, they have provided shelter, food, testing, behavioral and physical healthcare, guidance and expertise, and contact tracing. Our Public Health Team has investigated more than 32,000 COVID-19 cases and 802 COVID-19 outbreaks. We have preserved all 1,300+ year-round beds in our shelter system — including 300 beds that we moved to 24-hour motel programs for people who are especially vulnerable to the virus. 

We have supplied more than 800 community-based organizations and 750 healthcare organizations with more than 8 million items of PPE, including more than 5.25 million face masks and 10,000 gallons of hand sanitizer. The Multnomah County COVID-19 Call Center has taken more than 46,300 calls, including 3,000 in languages other than English.

And today, we are working hard to get the County’s allotment of vaccines to those in our community who face the highest risks and the highest barriers to immunization — we have received, stored, transferred or administered more than 48,000 doses so far. With the manufacture and distribution of vaccines steadily gaining speed, we can see, and hold onto, hope.

I want to thank all our County employees, in particular those from the Health Department, Emergency Management, the Joint Office of Homeless Services, Human Services and Elections, along with thousands of other staff members who have kept our County bridges, clinics, roads, community justice, animal services, jails, libraries, DART, facilities, IT, public safety, DAs and courts all working and continuing to serve the public. Every employee at the County has made a difference.

I also want to thank the culturally specific community-based organizations who have partnered with us to help the County respond to the needs of communities who have been disproportionately harmed by COVID-19, particularly Black, Indigenous, Latinx and other communities of color. They have been instrumental in our efforts to track, prevent and address the disproportionate illness and death these communities have experienced.

And most of all, I want to thank you, the Multnomah County residents who continue to wear your masks and act mindfully, who support local businesses, and who have stepped up for each other in so many ways, big and small. We’re not out of the woods yet, but we’ve made it this far on the strength and resilience of community.

Looking back on the past year, I grieve for who and what we have lost. I feel intense pride for how we have responded and what we have built together. And I am filled with hope for the way we can move forward together.

Please stay safe and stay healthy,

Deborah Kafoury
Multnomah County Chair