The Board of Commissioners voted Thursday, Dec. 16, to extend the County’s state of emergency. The vote comes just days after the first cases of the COVID-19 Omicron variant were discovered in Oregon and as indoor gatherings are expected to increase during the holiday season.
The declaration continues to give the County the ability to move quickly to address the COVID-19 pandemic. It facilitates vaccinations and testing, managing disease spread, and supporting community members impacted by the pandemic. COVID-19 continues to threaten the health and safety of residents, with health experts warning of another wave of infections.
“Since the start of our pandemic, our emergency declaration has ensured that the county has the flexibility and the tools to respond swiftly and effectively to our community’s evolving needs,” Chair Deborah Kafoury said. “All those tools will be critical throughout these winter months as we learn more about the impacts of the variant.”
Thursday’s declaration follows the adjournment of the Oregon State Legislature’s special legislative session, in which lawmakers passed rent assistance and another eviction prevention bill to keep Oregonians housed during the pandemic.
“We’ve also seen, with the work that the State Legislature has recently done with the rental protections, and some of the extensions they’ve made, that COVID is very much still with us and we need to be able to respond to this,” Commissioner Jessica Vega Pederson said.
On March 11, 2020 the County adopted Executive Rule 388, declaring an emergency due to COVID-19. The board has extended the declaration and its addendums six times to respond to the changing dynamics of the pandemic. The most recent declaration was set to expire on December 31, unless rescinded or extended.
Over the last several weeks, the County has seen increased need for voluntary isolation motel rooms, a need expected to continue throughout the winter. At the same time, Oregon hospitals remain understaffed and at capacity.
Health experts say two-dose vaccines provide some protection against the Omicron vaccine and help people avoid serious illness. But they urge anyone people who got a full series more than six months ago (or more than two months for J&J) to get their booster now. So far, only 20% of Oregonians have received a booster vaccine.
The extension preserves many of the tools the County has employed throughout the pandemic. Those include expanding access to vaccination events, providing gift cards to deliver cash assistance for families experiencing financial hardship, and making policy and personnel decisions to better serve the community.
“I support extending the state of emergency," Commissioner Lori Stegmann said. “Please get your booster shot. We’re in this together. and we’ve got to do everything that we can to help protect people.”
The board’s action will extend the declaration to March 31, 2022 unless rescinded earlier. At that point, if necessary, the County has the ability to extend it again. Chair Kafoury said she is hopeful that that won’t be necessary.
“We don’t expect, nor do we plan to be in a permanent, perpetual state of emergency,” Chair Kafoury said. “Getting vaccinated, getting a booster, wearing a mask, and being cautious about how and when we gather will undoubtedly help us get there.”