County receives ‘extreme risk’ warning letter


LINCOLN COUNTY — Three days after being downgraded from the extreme COVID-19 risk category, lifting restrictions such as the prohibition on indoor dining at restaurants and the closure of gyms, the Oregon Health Authority notified Lincoln County officials that the area is on track to regress on Jan. 15.

Lincoln County has transitioned at each two-week interval since Gov. Kate Brown announced the new risk level framework the week of Thanksgiving, replacing the phase and watch list approach. At the time of the announcement, the county was classified at “moderate risk,” pending a re-evaluation of the data prior to the framework’s taking effect Dec. 4, 2020. By that time, the county had seen enough new cases of COVID-19 to be reclassified as high risk, reducing capacity at some venues but permitting all businesses to remain open and allowing indoor dining to continue.

During the first two weeks, new cases per 100,000 residents exceeded 200, putting Lincoln County in the extreme risk category — meaning restaurants could only serve outdoors or to-go, and movie theaters, gyms, indoor pools, bowling alleys and other indoor recreation and entertainment facilities had to close. The county just edged under the extreme risk threshold at the next two-week interval, with 176 new cases, and re-entered high risk Jan. 1.

The health authority evaluates county data every Monday, and if new cases are enough to prompt a move to a new risk level, it sends a letter to warn counties they will be moved the following week if the trend continues. Lincoln County Public Health received such a letter Monday, Director Rebecca Austen told the Lincoln County Board of Commissioners during its regular meeting held via videoconference.

Asked for her opinion on whether the county was headed for a change next week, Deputy Director Florence Pourtal said, “I think we might go back up … it’s very hard to predict.”

The county health department reported a total of 31 cases Friday through Monday, and the new case rate per 100,000 residents from Dec. 20, 2020 to Jan. 2, 2021 was 205.6. 

A total of 96 new cases - an average of a little les than seven new cases a day — for two weeks is sufficient for Lincoln County to reach the extreme risk level. There have already been more than 70 new cases during the two-week period for which the health authority will make its next determination, which ends Saturday. 

Pourtal said some of the influx of cases last weekend likely came from the free mass testing event held in Newport last week. Tests were administered to 272 people at the Lincoln County fairgrounds on Dec. 30, and 14 tested positive, though one was from Louisiana and the other from Benton County, so only 12 were counted toward the local total. During a testing event held in Lincoln City the week prior, 203 tests were administered, with two county residents and one non-resident testing positive.

The deputy health director said some of the recent rise in new cases could be a result of Christmas gatherings, but it was too soon to tell how much the holidays had impacted transmission.

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