Clackamas County Reopening Plan Finalized; Still Falls Short on Contact Tracers, PPE

Clackamas County has met many of the prerequisites for reopening its economy in the wake of the Covid-19 shutdowns, but still falls short in key areas of testing, contact tracing, isolation facilities and personal protective equipment supply for first responders.

That’s according to the county’s draft reopening plan, which was completed by staff this week and made available to the public on the county’s website in advance of a hearing before the Board of Commissioners on Tuesday.

The county meets Governor Kate Brown’s requirements for declining prevalence of Covid-19, testing capacity, outbreak planning preparedness, health care capacity and supply of PPE at the county’s four hospitals.

But it has not met specific criteria for establishing testing sites accessible to underserved communities, hiring at least 15 contact tracers per 100,000 residents, making hotel rooms available for Covid-19 patients who cannot self-isolate and having enough PPE available to meet the needs of the county’s first responders.

Clackamas County meets the standard for declining Covid-19 hospitalizations, according to data released with the county’s draft plan this week.

The county’s first hospitalization for Covid-19 was recorded more than two months ago, on March 11. Peak hospitalizations hit in late March and early April. The county has seen a decline in hospitalizations related to the virus for the past two weeks, according to the report.

Testing capacity, which is measured based on a health region that also includes Multnomah and Washington counties, has far exceeded the state requirements.

Based on population, the region needs to administer 5,865 tests per week to meet the threshold. Testing capacity is now at approximately 12,400 per week — more than twice the needed capacity.

The county’s four hospitals — Providence Willamette Falls Hospital in Oregon City, Kaiser Sunnyside Medical Center, Legacy Meridian Park Hospital and Providence Milwaukie Hospital — have submitted letters confirming that they have at least a 30-day supply of PPE on hand, and sufficient capacity to provide care for a projected 20% increase in suspected or confirmed COVID‐19 cases.

One of the most difficult reopening hurdles for the county to clear has been hiring and training enough contact tracers to track the recent contacts of each person who tests positive for Covid-19.

The county had eight contact tracers on staff when the coronavirus pandemic began, who tracked outbreaks of sexually transmitted diseases such as hepatitis and syphilis. Based on population, they need at least 63 full-time tracers to meet the governor’s requirements — including some who are able to work in multiple languages and cultures.

The county has already expanded its staff of tracers to 21 and plans to hire another 20 by the end of next week, according to the draft report. The county recently learned that they don’t actually have to have hired the necessary contact tracers in order to be approved for reopening; they just need to have a plan for meeting the requirement within the time frame required by the state.

“The county has a plan in place to reach the minimum 63 contact tracers required to meet this prerequisite through temporary hiring, contracting, Medical Reserve Corp Volunteers, and relying on OHA’s staff,” the report says.

Another prerequisite the county has not yet met is to provide accommodations for those who test positive for the virus and do not have a safe, stable place to self‐isolate.

The county currently has contracted with one such location: the Alton Collins Retreat Center in Eagle Creek, which can provide housing for up to 20 individuals, with case management by Do Good Multnomah and wellness checks are provided by Clackamas Fire District paramedics.

The county has identified six more potential sites, which would accommodate lodging for up to 300 individuals. These include The Grove Camp & Retreat Center in Canby, SnoozInn in Wilsonville and Best Western in Oregon City.

Riverfront Lodge at The Grove Camp & Retreat Center in Canby. Courtesy The Grove.

The Clackamas County Emergency Operations Center, which is heading up the collection and distribution of PPE for the county’s first responders, says it has met the 30-day supply requirements for N95 and surgical masks, face shields and gloves, but has only about 10 percent each of the needed amounts for gowns and Tyvek suits.

The county said it believes it will be able to meet these shortfalls based on requests from the state Office of Emergency Management and continued fulfillment from the normal supply chains.

Despite the challenges, the county believes it will meet the seven criteria and be ready to apply for reopening by Friday, May 22, assuming county commissioners sign off this week. Once submitted, the county’s application for reopening is subject to the approval of the governor’s office and Oregon Health Authority.

Last week, Governor Brown approved 31 of the 33 counties that had applied to begin reopening on May 15. The two she denied were Marion — one of the state’s largest and most severely impacted counties — and neighboring Polk.

“My job is to make hard decisions, even when they are unpopular,” the governor said in a press conference on Thursday. “When it comes to the health and safety of Oregonians, the buck stops here.”

Counties who are approved for Phase 1 may begin the limited reopening of their businesses, restaurants, bars, personal services, churches, theaters and health clubs, under new sector-specific guidelines, physical distancing restrictions and limited occupancy requirements.

They must remain at Phase 1 for at least three weeks before they can apply for the second phase of reopening.

The Clackamas County Board of Commissioners will review the draft plan and decide whether to proceed at a hearing scheduled for 10 a.m. Tuesday. Residents are invited to participate via Zoom or by phone.

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