SALEM, Ore. — Oregon counties facing a return to "Extreme Risk" status will be spared the state's harshest coronavirus restrictions after officials decided to change their criteria on Tuesday.
Public health officials in Josephine County and Klamath County signaled earlier this week that they would likely move to "Extreme Risk" status on Friday. Both counties had been placed on a two-week extension amid rising cases — Josephine County from High Risk status, and Klamath County from Moderate Risk.
Under the new criteria, Extreme Risk will be determined by statewide COVID-19 hospitalization levels in addition to case counts and percent of test positivity. For any county to reach Extreme Risk, Oregon must have COVID-19 positive patients occupying 300 hospital beds or more, and a 15% increase in the seven-day average over the past week.
Counties that meet the criteria for Extreme Risk without the statewide trigger will be assigned to High Risk. Governor Brown's office identified three counties that qualify for Extreme Risk based on their county metrics, but are assigned High Risk because the statewide trigger has not been met — Josephine, Klamath, and Tillamook.
"COVID-19 hospitalizations are a key indicator of severe illness in Oregon communities," Brown's office said. "As vaccine distribution increases, case counts and percent positivity will not be adequate indicators on their own for measuring the threat COVID-19 poses to public health."
This isn't the first time that Oregon officials have changed the conditions for the risk level system as counties faced a return to Extreme RIsk. The concept of a two-week extension was added at the beginning of March, and allowed Jackson County to remain at High Risk in spite of seeing more cases over a two-week period than that risk level allowed.
Extreme Risk restrictions also got a minor tweak at the end of January. Instead of totally shutting down all gyms and fitness centers within an Extreme Risk county, the updated guidance allowed for very limited capacity in these businesses, dependent on the size of each facility.
From April 9 through April 22, there will be 14 counties in the High Risk level, six at Moderate Risk, and 16 at Lower Risk. During that period, Jackson, Josephine, Klamath, and Curry counties will all be at High Risk. Lake County remains at Lower Risk.
“We are at a critical moment in this pandemic as we face more contagious variants of COVID-19 taking hold in our communities,” said Governor Brown. “Now more than ever it’s imperative that we all continue wearing masks, maintain physical distance, stay home when sick, and get the vaccine when it’s available to you.”