Marion County moves back to extreme COVID risk

Stringent COVID-19 restrictions are returning to Marion County. 

Beginning Friday, April 30, restaurants will no longer be able to offer indoor dining, outdoor social gatherings will be limited to six people instead of eight, and churches will have to cut capacity. Gyms and movie theaters 500 square feet or larger will only be allowed to have only six customers at a time. Video lottery terminals will still be allowed in bars. But regulations only allow six people at a time who aren’t allowed to eat or drink and must wear masks.

Gov. Kate Brown announced the changes Tuesday, April 27, in an attempt to head off rising COVID-19 cases that threaten to overwhelm the state’s hospital system. 

Less than a third of Oregon’s population has been fully vaccinated, generally requiring two doses of vaccine spaced several weeks apart. In Marion County, about 121,000 people are fully vaccinated, about a third of the county’s population.

Despite the increase in vaccinations, both counties have seen a rise in new cases of COVID.

In Marion County, the case rate rose to 299 cases of COVID per 100,000 people between April 11 and April 24. That’s up from 204 cases per 100,000 from the previous two-week reporting period and 137 per 100,000 the period before.

Counties with more than 200 new COVID cases per 100,000 residents over two weeks are considered “extreme risk,” but in early April Brown said she would not impose new restrictions on those counties until COVID-related hospitalizations increased. 

The governor enacted the restrictions because the state meeting two thresholds: hospitalizations of COVID-positive patients exceeded 300 and the seven-day total of COVID patients rose by above 15%. 

Both thresholds were met with 319 COVID-positive patients occupying hospital beds statewide and the seven-day total of COVID-positive patients rising by 37.4%.

“If we don’t act now, doctors, nurses, hospitals, and other health care providers in Oregon will be stretched to their limits treating severe cases of COVID-19,” said Brown. “Today’s announcement will save lives and help stop COVID-19 hospitalizations from spiking even higher. With new COVID-19 variants widespread in so many of our communities, it will take all of us working together to bring this back under control.”

Salem Health said in a statement that it is currently at 89% of its normally licensed bed capacity. The health care provider has been preparing additional bed capacity since 2019 the company said. Typically, the hospital has a capacity for 494 patients. Currently, it has a bed capacity for 534 patients and is caring for 56 COVID-positive inpatients.

COVID-19 vaccinations are now available to all Oregonians 16 and older. 

Vaccinations are the strongest tool as the country and the world work to bring an end to the COVID-19 pandemic and protect those who are most vulnerable to serious illness in the community. 

Many large pharmacy systems are beginning to receive COVID-19 vaccines from the federal government. Salem Health, Lancaster Family Medical Center and WFMC Health also have vaccination shots to distribute.