In an unexpected announcement, Oregon Governor Kate Brown has eased pandemic restrictions for Columbia County, allowing the county to move back to High Risk under the state's COVID health and safety classifications.
Columbia County had been placed at Extreme High Risk on April 30 due to rising COVID cases and hospitalizations.
The Extreme High Risk classification increased public and businesses health and safety requirements and limitations, including a ban on indoor dinning.
Brown issued her announcement late Tuesday, updating county risk levels under the state's public health framework to reduce transmission and protect Oregonians from COVID-19.
With the statewide seven-day average increase for hospitalized COVID-19 positive patients dropping below 15 percent, Oregon no longer meets the statewide metrics for the Extreme Risk level.
Effective Friday, May 7, 15 counties, including Columbia County, will return to High Risk. In total, 24 counties will be at High Risk, four at Moderate Risk, and eight at Lower Risk.
“Let me be clear: across the state, COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations are still high, and Oregon is not out of the woods yet," Brown said. "However, we have met the hospitalization metric established by our health experts for counties to return to High Risk. From the beginning, I have said that returning counties to the Extreme Risk level was about preserving hospital capacity and saving lives. With our statewide hospitalization rate stabilizing, our hospitals should have the capacity to continue treating patients with severe cases of COVID-19 and other serious medical conditions in the coming weeks.
“Based on today’s numbers, I am keeping my commitment to Oregonians. Beginning Friday, all counties in Extreme Risk will return to High Risk. With Oregonians continuing to get vaccinated each week, my expectation is that we will not return to Extreme Risk again for the duration of this pandemic.
“I know this will bring relief to many across the state. However, the lifting of Extreme Risk health and safety measures comes with great personal responsibility for us all. If Oregonians continue to keep up their guard, follow High Risk health and safety measures, and get vaccinated as fast as possible, we should see our COVID-19 case and hospitalization rates decline. I’d like to thank Oregonians for taking this surge seriously for the last several weeks. It’s because of you that our hospitals have not been overwhelmed.
“Today, we also received the welcome news from the Biden-Harris administration that they will be reallocating unused vaccines to the states that need them. Oregon will ask for the maximum allowed, which will help us to get shots in arms faster. Vaccinations are still our best path to protecting our loved ones, and staying on track to fully reopen our economy by the end of June.”