With Covid surging, Marion and Polk counties moved back into extreme risk categories

Signs on the window at Taproot Lounge and Cafe advertise takeout options while the restaurant is closed to indoor seating due to state restrictions, on Thursday, Dec. 10. (Amanda Loman/Salem Reporter)

With rising Covid cases putting strains on the state’s hospital capacity, Marion and Polk counties will return to stringent pandemic restrictions that haven’t been in place since winter. 

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. 

Gov. Kate Brown on Tuesday announced that 15 counties, including Marion and Polk, would move into the “extreme risk” category that comes with heightened restrictions. Counties will remain in that category for a maximum of three weeks, according to a press statement. 

The move came after the state met two triggers: hospitalizations of Covid-positive patients exceeded 300 and the seven-day total of Covid patients rose by above 15%. The governor had earlier held off enacting more severe restrictions but introduced the triggers in her risk framework to prevent hospitals from becoming overwhelmed. 

On Monday, both those 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 in a statement. “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.”

That comes in addition to rising case rates in Marion and Polk counties. In Marion County, the case rate rose to 299 per 100,000 people between April 11 through April 24. That’s up from 204 cases per 100,000 from the previous reporting period and 137 per 100,000 the period before. 

Polk County saw its rate rise to 215.8 per 100,000 people for the most recent reporting period. That’s an increase from 200 per 100,000 in the previous period and the 191.7 per 100,000 before that. 

Brown also said she’s working with the Oregon Legislature on a $20 million small business relief package for businesses located in counties with the extreme risk designation. 

Additionally, the governor will be evaluating Covid data every week, instead of every two weeks, to evaluate risk levels. The next possible update to risk levels will be announced on Tuesday, May 4, and take effect on Friday, May 7. 

-Jake Thomas