Heads of six rural Eastern Oregon County Public Health Departments, including Grant County, sent an open letter to Oregon’s Public Health Authority requesting its top health official revise the standards used to establish COVID-19 risk categories.
The health officials from Morrow, Baker, Klamath, Lake, Grant and Malheur Counties said in the letter that rural geographic areas are affected differently than urban areas. The state guidelines have not accounted for that.
The administrators pointed to Baker County as an example in the letter that was signed just before Christmas. While in the extreme category, Baker had, as of the letter’s drafting, 72 cases over two weeks. The letter pointed out those cases span an area of nearly 3,000 miles.
But then Malheur County, the administrators said in the letter, saw over 200 cases in two weeks over roughly 10,000 miles.
The letter’s authors said a cafe in the tiny town of Juntura, more than 70 miles from Ontario, the country’s population center, could be put out of business based on the state’s methods of establishing risk categories.
Grant County’s Public Health Administrator Kimberly Lindsay said the letter’s timing was “a bit unfortunate.” She said the letter went out around the same time that Gov. Kate Brown issued a press release on Dec. 23 revising school reopening metrics.
“Given this, the school metrics are less of an issue,” Lindsay said. “Speaking for myself, that was the biggest reason we signed on to the letter.”
The governor’s press release said the decisions to reopen schools could be made at the local level essentially.
The press release stated that local community spread of COVID-19 that guides when it is “appropriate” to open schools for in-person instruction would be advisory rather than mandatory, effective Jan. 1.
“Moving forward, decisions to resume in-person instruction must be made locally, district by district, school by school,” according to the governor’s press release.