Change in Risk Status
For Immediate Release: Wednesday, May 19, 2021
Washington County moves to “Lower Risk” on Friday, May 21
Rising vaccination rates and Washington County’s plan for removing barriers for those experiencing the disparate impact of the pandemic have prompted Governor Kate Brown to place Washington County in the “Lower Risk” category of public health restrictions beginning Friday, May 21. The new risk status will allow restaurants, gyms and other businesses to safely expand some of their capacity to serve clients and customers.
The Governor’s Office has outlined the statewide risk framework and associated county-by-county metrics on the governor’s website. Specifics about what the new Lower Risk status means for employers can be found on the Washington County COVID-19 website. The Oregon Health Authority also recently released new guidance on mask wearing that has implications for businesses and other employers, including the Washington County organization.
“This improvement in our risk status is a tribute to the diligence of thousands of Washington County residents who have been safely vaccinated over the last four months,” said Washington County Chair Kathryn Harrington. “With the help of our health care partners, volunteers and community-based organizations, our focus is now on supporting the remaining members of the community in getting their questions answered and accessing the vaccine.”
Vaccine Threshold for "Lower Risk" Category
With the wider availability of COVID-19 vaccines in recent weeks, Governor Brown announced a new system earlier this month for placing Oregon’s 36 counties within a statewide risk category framework. Under the new approach, counties that achieve a vaccination rate of at least 65% of their population 16 years old or older and submit an equity plan may move into the “Lower Risk” category of the framework, the least restrictive on the scale.
Governor Brown announced on May 18 that Washington County had reached the required 65% vaccination threshold. The county submitted a vaccination equity plan on May 14.
Vaccine Equity Plan
Although Washington County’s Latino/Latina/Latinx community makes up more than 15% of the county’s population, it has come to represent 39% of known cases. According to the county’s vaccination equity plan, several systemic factors have shaped this outcome, including the greater likelihood of historically marginalized communities who work in front-line jobs with less ability to remain socially distant and to work in industries offering less job security, little-to-no paid sick time and limited-to-no child care.
“We are grateful to our public health staff, volunteers and community partners who have helped us make great progress in closing the vaccine equity gap,” said Health and Human Services Department Director Marni Kuyl. “In many cases, our communities of color and those hit hardest by the pandemic are least likely to have access to the vaccine and we are making progress in closing that gap.”
The county’s vaccine equity plan points out that as of May 12, 32% percent Latinx and 30% of Black community members had received at least one dose of vaccine, compared to 45% of whites.
The plan goes on to describe the county’s continuing work to close racial and ethnic gaps in vaccination rates, including:
- Partnering with community-based organizations to hold clinics that are culturally specific.
- Forming a 25-member COVID-19 Racial Equity Advisory Group to co-create strategies for removing barriers to vaccination.
- Ensuring that traditional and community health workers received high priority when vaccines were first made available to health care workers under the statewide vaccine rollout.
- Working with partner organizations to support the availability of child care among low-income families and families facing language barriers.
- Working to support and remove barriers for those with developmental disabilities and their families, including within families of color and immigrant communities.
New Guidance on Mask Wearing
In addition to the new approach to risk categories, Governor Brown and the Oregon Health Authority also recently announced Oregon’s approach to new mask-wearing guidelines from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Given the effectiveness of vaccination in stopping the spread of the COVID-19 virus, the new federal guidelines remove the mask-wearing recommendation for most outdoor settings and for indoor settings once two weeks have passed since a person’s final dose of vaccine. The new state guidance requires employers to check for vaccination documentation before allowing people to go maskless or to stick with current mask-wearing requirements.
Washington County has chosen to keep its current mask-wearing requirements for employees and members of the public for the time being. This means the county will continue to request facial coverings for employees in publicly accessible spaces and for everyone doing in-person business with the county, even if someone can verify their vaccination status with documentation.
“Until everyone has had the chance to get fully vaccinated, there will still be members of the public and fellow employees who are vulnerable to getting infected,” explained County Administrator Tanya Ange. “Our commitment to equity calls on us to protect those facing barriers to getting fully vaccinated by continuing to wear masks as appropriate while in our buildings.”
More guidance for county employees about the organization’s protective measures for preventing the spread of COVID-19 can be found on the county website.
More information about where to find COVID-19 vaccine opportunities can be found at: www.co.washington.or.us/vaccine.
General information about COVID-19, what “Lower Risk” restrictions mean, and the steps everyone can take to prevent the spread of the virus can be found at www.co.washington.or.us/covid-19.
Media Contact:Philip Bransford, Communications Officer