County officials in Gilliam, Wheeler and Sherman counties have submitted reopening applications to the Oregon Health Authority and are awaiting a response.
Rural counties with no cases or few and declining cases of the Coronavirus were identified for early reopening by Governor Brown in April. However, the reopening will not be conducted on a county by county basis alone. While the declining prevalence of COVID-19 will be monitored by county, the minimum tests that are completed and ability to track and isolate the disease will be done by health region.
On May 7, Governor Brown laid out a multi-phased reopening plan. The four tiered plan will monitor each region’s ability to control the spread of COVID-19, test for the disease, trace those who have been in contact with a confirmed COVID-19 case and have adequate hospital space.
Wheeler County’s reopening plan shows that the county is meeting the requirements of Phase 1: no COVID-19 cases, a contact tracing system is in place and isolation facilities are ready.
Asher Community Clinic Chief Operations Officer Susan Moore told the Times-Journal that the facility has ample test-kits and that 55 people have been tested in recent weeks. This number includes law-enforcement and healthcare workers who are considered to be at higher risk of contracting the disease.
Gilliam County’s reopening plan says that the county is well prepared to reopen on May 15. The plan sites the ability for increased testing at North Gilliam County Health District and South Gilliam Health District.
David Anderson is the Administrator at the North Gilliam Health District in Arlington and says that there are ample tests on hand. Mr. Anderson says that five people have been tested, and that they have “more than sufficient tests and supplies” to meet the needs of the district.
The wider regions for Sherman, Wheeler and Gilliam counties are also prepared should hospitalizations surge or protective equipment demands climb. The North Central Public Health District is providing support for contact tracing and to meet the needs of health facilities. The Mid Columbia Medical Center in The Dalles is equipped to provide care for those in Region 6 (Sherman and Gilliam counties). St. Charles Hospital in Bend is also prepared to serve Region 7 (Wheeler County) should cases climb.
The state is using regions that were developed by the Oregon Health Authority to determine the wider success rate in curtailing the virus. Counties and regions must successfully show that they can meet requirements of Phase 1 for 21 days in order to pass to Phase 2.
The Health Security and Preparedness and Response Program has 7 regions in the state of Oregon. Wheeler County is in Region 7, the state’s largest geographical region. Region 7 spans from Grant County to the East, Jefferson and Deschutes County to the West and Lake County in the South.
On May 15, some retail establishments that were ordered to close in March will be allowed to reopen. This includes childcare facilities, summer schools, summer youth camps, art galleries, jewelry shops and boutiques, all with specific limitations and guidelines.