June 17, 2020

The state of Oregon announced today Multnomah County is approved to enter Phase 1 of reopening this Friday, June 19, allowing seated service in restaurants and bars, personal services by appointment, the use of gyms and fitness centers, and gatherings up to 25 people, all for the first time since March 23. Retail businesses reopened May 15.

The approval is tied to a three-week state-mandated pause on further reopening of neighboring Washington and Clackamas counties. It also comes with a mandate that beginning June 24, members in the Tri-County region and in Marion, Polk, Lincoln and Hood River counties must use a face covering whenever they are indoors in a space shared by other members of the public. 

“We know that people in the Portland metro area live in one county, work in another and recreate in a third. And yet, the virus does not care about county lines,’’ said Chair Deborah Kafoury. “I applaud the Governor for connecting the three counties.’’

Multnomah County submitted its framework for reopening on June 5 and initially asked to enter Phase 1 of reopening June 12. But after a spike in COVID-19 cases in several counties, Gov. Kate Brown on June 11 announced a one-week statewide hold on any further reopening, delaying Multnomah County’s plans to enter Phase 1.

Beginning Friday, coffee shops can again offer dine-in service in Multnomah County, with extra precautions. against COVID-19

“Our community made many sacrifices and stayed home to give us time to build a comprehensive, equitable response to this ongoing threat of COVID-19,” said Chair Kafoury. “But this is not a return to business as usual. We need to keep doing what we know will slow and stop the spread of the virus. Slow and steady wins the race.”

Multnomah County took extra care in its reopening framework, focusing on the reality that the people most likely to be exposed at work, to get seriously ill and die from the virus, are the same people most impacted by racism. The framework prioritizes the needs of Black, Indigenous and other communities of color; people over age 65; people who live in congregate settings; and those with underlying health conditions. 

Beginning this month, the Health Department stood up drive-through or walk-up testing twice a week at its East County building for people of color, people without insurance, and those who may have taken part in recent demonstrations and are experiencing symptoms. A second site is expected to open in July in Mid-County.

The County’s public health plan to limit the spread of COVID-19 includes increased testing for communities of color, a contact tracing workforce that is reflective of the community’s diversity, and partnerships with community organizations to support families whose members may become ill. The County also described how it would handle outbreaks in corrections, long-term care, food processing facilities and shelters. 

“Reopening means that the virus will spread and case counts will go up,” said Public Health Director Rachael Banks. “our public health response tools are ready, but minimizing hospitalizations and deaths from the virus will depend on all of us — individuals, businesses, and community groups — continuing to take precautions.”

Banks says it is understandable that, after so much time apart, people will want to get together with friends and family or take a trip. But she urged residents to move slowly and remember the basics.

People with underlying health conditions or those at high risk should be extra careful. And everyone should remember: The more places you go,  and more people you spend time with, the more important it is to practice basic prevention. Even if you aren’t perfect, these measures will help as case investigations show that outside of work related outbreaks, many cases are being traced to people socializing and traveling with people outside their immediate household. 

The Public Health Director urged residents to:

  • Continue limiting close contact with people outside your household

  • Keep 6 feet from others when you are out in public

  • Wear a face covering

  • Minimize non-essential travel whenever possible

  • Practice basic prevention — wash hands often, use hand sanitizer, don’t touch your face, stay home when you are sick

Face covering mandate

Reopening and moving toward further reopening as a Tri-County region will require residents to adhere to a new state mandate on face coverings, which begins June 24 so that community members have time to make or purchase them.

Wearing a face covering means you can protect those around you, by containing your respiratory droplets. That’s true even if you don’t have symptoms like coughing or sneezing, since some people infected with COVID-19 never show symptoms — but can spread it all the same. 

But a growing field of scientific evidence shows that proper-fitting face coverings also protect those wearing them and can considerably reduce the spread of the virus. But not everyone feels safe benefiting from the use of face coverings. Racist reactions to Black, Indigenous, and People of Color wearing face coverings is a reality.  There are also people who cannot wear face coverings because of medical conditions or disabilities. 

County leaders urged people to be kind, avoid judging or policing those who are not in face coverings, and to maintain physical distance to keep you both well.

“We know face coverings can help lower the risk of getting the virus and all people deserve to benefit from that protection,” said Health Officer Dr. Jennifer Vines. “So it is all of our jobs to do the antiracist work so that our Black and Brown neighbors feel safe enough to share in the protection that face coverings can provide.”

Vines also called on businesses to make face coverings available free or at low cost to staff and to patrons, so everyone has equal access to the protection face coverings afford.

Those who sew face coverings

Multnomah County is still accepting face covering donations, and we appreciate anyone who’s able to provide face coverings. You can find more information on our website about how to donate at multco.us/covid19 (Here’s where you can donate).

Multnomah County is prioritizing donations for Black, Indigenous, and People of Color who work in public-facing positions and other vulnerable populations.

Remember: The tighter the weave, the thicker the cloth, the better the protection. When choosing fabrics:

  • Look for a tight weave cotton-quilt; 600 thread count is best

  • Or use two layers of fabric: high thread-count cotton AND silk, chiffon, or flannel

Face coverings 101

A face covering that fits well and is made of certain types and combinations of fabric can offer good protection to the wearer against droplets and some aerosols.

 Look for:

  • Tight weave cotton-quilt, OR cotton plus silk, chiffon, or flannel

  • Any basic cloth face covering PLUS nylon stocking to sculpt the fit to the wearer's face. 

A face covering works best when:

  • Your mouth and nose are fully covered

  • The covering fits snugly against the sides of your face without gaps.

  • You handle the face covering by its elastic bands or ties, not the part that covers your face.

Some people can't wear a face covering due to health conditions, age, or differential ability. 

Children under 2 years old should not wear face coverings. Anyone who cannot easily take off a face covering on their own should not wear one. Finally, it is not necessary to wear a face covering when exercising outdoors at times when six feet of physical distance can be reliably maintained between people.