Desert Lanes Family Fun Center, Hermiston.jpg

People bowl at desert Lanes Family Fun Center, Hermiston, on June 8. When Umatilla County returns to Phase 2, bowling alleys, arcades and movie theaters will be among operations with the approval to reopen.

UMATILLA COUNTY — The timing of when Umatilla County will be permitted to move back to Phase 2 of reopening is up in the air after the state denied its appeal last week.

“I no longer have any forecast on when Phase 2 will happen,” Umatilla County Public Health Director Joe Fiumara said on Wednesday, Sept. 2. “We were aiming for that three-week mark, which was next week. I can no longer tell that to anybody with any confidence.”

Umatilla County Commissioner John Shafer confirmed the county’s appeal was denied during a Sept. 2 conference call with Oregon Health Authority Director Pat Allen and state epidemiologist Dr. Dean Sidelinger.

The county had appealed to the state to move into Phase 2 starting Friday, Sept. 4, but Fiumara said the state presented the county with a set of requirements before any appeal for Phase 2 will be granted.

“Where my understanding is for where we are right now, they are not going to allow Umatilla County to move to Phase 2 until such time that we meet all six public health indicators and our case rate for that week is less than 100 per 100,000,” Fiumara said.

In a Sept. 3 press release announcing the county’s appeal was denied, Gov. Kate Brown confirmed that due to higher case counts than earlier in the pandemic, no county will be permitted into Phase 2 without a case rate below 100 per 100,000 people.

“The original prerequisites for Phase 2 were based on trend-based metrics,” the release stated. “At that time, counties had a relatively low infection rate.”

In Phase 2, indoor and outdoor recreation and entertainment venues, such as movie theaters and pools, are able to reopen, in addition to youth clubs and playgrounds.

According to a Sept. 3 update of the Oregon Health Authority’s public data dashboard, Umatilla County is not meeting three of the six metrics for evaluating a county’s status during the pandemic. Those metrics are uptrends in hospitalizations over the last 14 days, uptrends in positive test rate in the last week and an uptrend of more than 5% in new cases over the last week.

There were eight county residents hospitalized with the virus as of Sept. 3, according to Umatilla County Public Health. The Oregon Health Authority doesn’t publicly provide the numbers it uses to determine that there’s been an uptrend in the last 14 days, but Umatilla County Public Health reported there were seven hospitalizations in an Aug. 20 press release.

The Oregon Health Authority also calculated a case rate of 180 per 100,000 people in Umatilla County for the week of Aug. 23-29, along with a positive test rate of 13.3% that same week.

Those calculations seesawed from reports the week prior, which listed the county at a case rate of 113 per 100,000 (representing a fourth consecutive week of declining numbers) but a positive test rate of 16.3% the week of Aug. 16-22.

While those numbers suggest a downtrend in positive test rate from one week to the next, Fiumara said the Oregon Health Authority indicated the metric was determined as showing an uptrend because the rate increased from the beginning of the week to the end of the week Aug. 23-29.

“I’m not going to lie, it makes me sit here and think if we’re going to do a testing event, whether I do it early in the week or late in the week needs to be based on whether I think there’s going to be a lot of positives or negatives,” Fiumara said. “And I don’t think that’s (a) good public health response.”

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