Gov. Kate Brown announced Wednesday that, due to what appeared to be a relatively stable rate of people in Multnomah County being hospitalized due to COVID-19, she has allowed the county to move into the first phase of reopening on Friday.
A day later, however, that data has changed.
In a Thursday morning press conference, Oregon Health Authority (OHA) Director Pat Allen said the county hospitalization data was incorrect. Due to a "glitch" in data collection, OHA had missed five additional cases of COVID-19 hospitalization reported in Multnomah County over the course of the past week, beginning on June 7.
"We made an error, and I apologize for this inaccuracy," said Allen.
In total, Allen said, Multnomah County saw 14 hospitalizations last week, with a significant cluster of them occurring at the end of the week, hinting at a continued surge. The preceding week saw 15 hospitalizations. To meet the state's "Phase 1" reopening requirements, a county must show a 14-day decline in COVID-19 hospitalizations. Allen said the small decline over the past two weeks is concerning—but not enough to delay Multnomah County's reopening plan.
"These cases don't change our overall assessment of the situation in Multnomah County," said Allen.
Allen said that's because the percentage of visits to county hospitals remains "stubbornly low," with only six out of every 1,000 visits being related to coronavirus-like symptoms. He said that other factors determining a county's ability to reopen—like case investigations and total positive cases—are also on the right path.
Brown said she agrees this possible increase in hospitalizations isn't worth pumping the brakes for. During the Thursday press conference, she said that per recommendations from local health officials, she is confident Multnomah County should "proceed forward, cautiously, as always."
Along with a 14 new hospitalizations, last week also brought the highest number of overall COVID-19 cases in Multnomah County (210) since the beginning of the outbreak.
Under Phase 1 of the state's plan, restaurants, bars, salons, gyms, fitness centers and other public-facing businesses can reopen—with significant spacing and cleanliness precautions to protect against spreading the coronavirus.
Brown also spoke about the new rule, beginning June 24, for all Multnomah County residents to wear face masks in public indoor spaces, like grocery stores, libraries, and boutiques. Only children under age 12 or adults with a disability that prevents them from wearing a mask are exempt from the rule. Brown said that people who shirk the requirement "won’t get arrested or get a ticket."
"However, it is a requirement and it is enforceable," Brown added. She slightly clarified that statement later, noting that all of her executive orders are enforced by law and that businesses have the right to prohibit mask-less people from entering their stores. It's still unclear how—and if—the mask requirement will be enforced.
"I want to encourage Oregonians to be thoughtful and considerate of others," said Brown.