A new shutdown of Union County is possible if tracing and quarantining don’t halt a spike in the county that pushed the state to a record 278 new COVID-19 infections on Tuesday.
“All options are on the table,” said Charles Boyle, a spokesman for Gov. Kate Brown.
The Oregon Health Authority is working with Union County officials to trace and isolate any additional cases linked to an outbreak among the congregation of the Lighthouse Pentecostal Church in Island City, which held services in April and May, according to since-deleted posts on the church’s Facebook page, despite Gov. Kate Brown’s executive orders limiting gatherings.
“OHA is still assessing what targeted interventions can be implemented before we consider moving the county backwards in the reopening process,” Boyle said.
Neither of the two new deaths in the state reported on Tuesday were linked to the Union County outbreak. The state reported an 89-year-old man in Clackamas County and an 85-year-old woman in Marion County had died.
Oregon has recorded 182 deaths in Oregon caused by COVID-19 since March.
Union County, with a population of just under 27,000, now has 240 confirmed positive cases of the coronavirus.
Oregon showed one of the lowest rates of infections in the nation between March and May.
Brown announced in May that the successful suppression of the virus meant counties could apply for a phased “reopening” that loosened or lifted controls on shopping, dining, crowd sizes and many other activities. The public was expected to continue social distancing and enhanced hygiene practices, including wearing of face coverings in most situations.
Union County is among 29 counties now in Phase 2, the least restrictive level in the state.
New infections have surpassed 100 on eight of the past 10 days, a trend that led Brown to say she was halting further reopening steps — what she called a “yellow light” — to give state health officials a chance to look at the data and see why numbers were rising.
The New York Times reported Tuesday that Oregon is one of 20 states that have seen an increase in new cases over the past two weeks.
Thomas Jeanne, the deputy state epidemiologist, said during a Tuesday press briefing that some rise in cases had been forecast by health officials.
“I think generally we are seeing increasing numbers, which is what we expected with reopening,” he said.
Oregon was among hundreds of places worldwide where mass demonstrations have been held since the Memorial Day death of George Floyd, a black man who died after a Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes while in custody. The largest demonstrations in the state, which continue, have been in Portland. But several other cities have also seen events where large crowds are in close proximity.
Jeanne said there was no sign so far that a significant number of cases of the virus were linked to the demonstrations. He said officials would likely report any clusters — he said perhaps as small as five — that appear from any event. Those attending the earliest demonstrations are in the timeframe when symptoms of COVID-19 appear.
Brown announced Tuesday that she would call the Legislature into a special session beginning June 24 to consider 27 bills she proposed, some dealing with police reforms and others strengthening the COVID-19 directives she issued as executive orders.
Health officials said Tuesday they believe they have tested all the members of the congregation of the Union County church linked to the outbreak. Boyle said the governor hoped the outbreak was an anomaly that can be contained. But the spike is also a warning that the virus is still very active in Oregon.
“From the beginning, we have known that reopening comes with real risk, and the situation in Union County shows how quickly COVID-19 can spread in a community,” said Boyle, Brown’s spokesman.