Multnomah County is back on Oregon’s coronavirus watch list

By Rob Manning (OPB)
Oct. 24, 2020 2:18 p.m.

An increase in untraceable COVID-19 diagnoses has put Oregon’s most populous county back on the state’s pandemic watch list.

The same day that Oregon confirmed its highest daily number of COVID-19 diagnoses since the virus first arrived in the state last winter, Gov. Kate Brown announced that a rise in so-called “sporadic” cases had landed Multnomah County back on the state’s watch list.

Brown announced the move late Friday afternoon.

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“Today marks the second time a county has been added back to the Watch List, as well as our state’s highest reported case count since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Brown said in a statement, calling it a “sobering reminder that we cannot let down our guard."

Counties are put on the watch list when there are too many sporadic cases of the virus, which occurs when, in a two-week period, 50 or more positive cases per 100,000 people can’t be traced back to a particular outbreak or source.

The watch list designation was unwelcome news to top officials in Multnomah County.

“Multnomah County is frustrated that the Oregon Health Authority has again placed Multnomah County on the Watch List of Oregon counties experiencing a high level of sporadic spread of COVID-19,” Multnomah County communications director Julie Sullivan-Springhetti said in an email Friday evening.

The county argued in a statement that Multnomah County is part of a national trend and, in fact, COVID-19 numbers have spiked this week, with record numbers reported nationally and new cases diagnosed in previously less-affected rural areas.

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Rather than being put back on the state’s watch list, the county called for “flexibility.”

“[W]e know that cases in our County will increase as we test more people and as we head inside for winter. That’s all the more reason for the state to update its framework to help the Tri-County region become more nimble and consider different approaches,” Sullivan-Springhetti’s emailed statement said.

The statement issued a call that officials say they have made before: for streamlined reporting, a broader examination of case notifications and contact tracing, and sharing data to help businesses and schools reopen.

The governor’s office said counties on the watch list receive extra support and assistance from the state, in an effort to better track and respond to the disease.

“When a county is placed on the Watch List, the Oregon Health Authority increases monitoring and communication, and deploys additional technical assistance and resources, such as epidemiological support, case investigation, and contact tracing help,” the governor’s statement said.

At the same time Multnomah County was placed on the list, the governor’s office said two counties have come off: Benton and Clatsop.

Lane, Malheur and Umatilla also remain on the state watch list.

Multnomah had been on the watch list over the summer, but was removed toward the end of August.

Lane, Malheur and Umatilla counties are also on the list.

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