A woman wearing a mask walks along Liberty Street in downtown Salem on Thursday, April 16. (Amanda Loman/Salem Reporter)

Marion County has been added to a state watch list intended to guide additional resources to counties struggling to contain Covid outbreaks, Gov. Kate Brown announced Thursday.

Marion County will remain on the watch list for a minimum of three weeks and until the number of cases that can’t be traced to a known source decreases.

From July 19 to July 25, Marion County couldn’t trace 29% of cases back to a known source, below the 30% threshold the Oregon Health Authority has set. The percentage of known sources has been a key metric for how effective a county is in curbing the spread of Covid. Knowing the source of the infection allows health investigators to warn those an infected person may have come in contact with to take health precautions.

Counties are added to the list when 50 cases or more per 100,000 people can’t be traced to a known source in the prior two-week span. In Marion County, 61 cases per 100,000 couldn't be traced to a known source from July 12 to 25.

Statewide, the number of infections that can be traced to a known source is decreasing, with less than half of all cases being traced to a known source in the third week of July, according to the Oregon Health Authority’s data.

“I want to be clear, being on the watchlist is not punitive,” said Dr. Dean Sidelinger, the state health officer, during a press call Thursday afternoon.

He said that the designation doesn’t move the county backward in the state's phased reopening plan, but the Oregon Health Authority will increase its monitoring and communication with the county and offer additional resources. 

Pat Allen, director of the Oregon Health Authority, said his agency would tailor its assistance to what each local public health department needs. That could be assistance with case investigation, prioritizing testing at long-term care facilities and additional analysis of epidemiological results.

“It all really depends on what do we and local health determine are the biggest needs,” Allen said Thursday.

County spokeswoman Jenna Wyatt said long-term care facilities would be prioritized for testing.

Marion County Commissioner Kevin Cameron said the county learned about the new criteria on Wednesday and said the biggest concern should instead be hospitalization data, which is currently on a downtrend in the county.

Marion County has followed up on 99% of cases within 24 hours, according to the most recent data from OHA.

Cameron said that shows the county has been able to handle the contact tracing workload and doesn’t know what additional resources OHA will provide to the county.

He said the county can’t control visitors who flock to the area’s rivers and lakes during the summer months.

“This virus is a not a county line issue, Marion County has a huge natural resource area that people come from all around the state to enjoy,” Cameron said.

Nine other counties are on the watch list: Baker, Hood River, Jefferson, Lake, Malheur, Morrow, Multnomah, Umatilla, and Wasco.

“This is also a good reminder to all Oregonians—especially to those who live in watch list counties—of the importance of remaining vigilant. I urge all Oregonians to keep practicing physical distancing, wearing face coverings, and practicing good hygiene. Your choices matter, and we are truly all in this together,” Brown said in a statement. 

This story was updated to include the most recent OHA data.

Correction: This story was updated to reflect the rate of tracing by population, not by case count.

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