May 13, 2021

Multnomah County will submit its equity plan to the Oregon Health Authority on Friday, May 21, with the goal of moving into “Low Risk” on May 28.

The plan to reopen Multnomah County by Memorial Day weekend will reflect the complexity of vaccinating the number of people required to meet the state metric, while protecting as many people as possible — particularly those most at risk — from COVID-19 and its variants.

Gov. Kate Brown, in announcing her new framework Tuesday afternoon, said counties could submit their equity plans as early as Friday, May 14. Counties received the state’s guidelines for those equity plans on Wednesday morning.  

Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury said the questions laid out in the state’s guidelines — which ask about closing gaps, engaging partners, and improving vaccine confidence, among others — deserve the same attention to inclusion that the County has given to its overall COVID-19 response, especially as health officials have tracked disproportionate rates of illness and hospitalization among communities of color, most recently for Black and African American residents.

“The health of our whole community hinges on the health of each of our communities, and that’s why the equity component of the state’s newest framework must be developed intentionally,” Kafoury said. “And that is going to take more than three days.”

Public Health has worked with community groups since December to vaccinate more than 20,000 people, nearly 80 percent of whom identify as Black, Latinx, Indigenous or other people of color. And the County’s clinical system has reached more than 7,000 patients, about 70 percent of whom identify as people of color. 

But with more than 200,000 people 16 and older in Multnomah County who have yet to receive a first dose, the County can’t close the equity gap alone. Closing that gap will also need a commitment from health systems and pharmacies, which have received 90 percent of the vaccines, to step up their efforts to reach those communities who have been most impacted by COVID-19.

“We need a thoughtful plan to make sure we’re reaching every corner of Multnomah County,” said Health Officer Dr. Jennifer Vines. “We want every community to have the chance to get a first dose in a way that works for them.” 

The County will work with culturally specific community partners and public health advisory bodies to refine and build from existing strategies to close vaccine gaps. Those strategies may include a mix of dedicated vaccine sites with regular convenient hours, community-sponsored vaccine events, and more hyper-local hub-and-spoke-model clinics. 

It will also mean supporting primary care clinics where patients can hear from their primary care provider, supporting local pharmacies that make it easy to drop by, and offering other supports, services and incentives, as well as continued community engagement and education.

The state’s pivot to a vaccination-based reopening framework comes as demand for the vaccine at large community sites has slowed in recent weeks. Public Health leaders say the planning for this next phase comes at a good time.

“We have had to constantly pivot our public health response throughout the pandemic, and now is one of those times,” said Public Health Director Jessica Guernsey. “This was a turning point where people who were enthusiastic and able to navigate the pathways to vaccines have been able to get their shots. So the work now is to reach people who will get the vaccine if it’s quick and convenient. And to reach others who will get vaccinated once they hear accurate vaccine information from people they trust.”