FILE — Oregon Gov. Kate Brown

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown.

(The Center Square) — Oregonians in rural Umatilla County have been ordered by Gov. Kate Brown to stay at home whenever possible as the county battles a major spike of COVID-19 cases.

Morrow County has also been moved by the governor from Phase 2 to Phase 1 of reopening.

The order, effective Friday, marks the first time Oregon Gov. Kate Brown has mandated a rollback on county re-openings.

"After weeks of trying other measures to get the disease under control, our only option is to temporarily close certain businesses and other community amenities,” Brown said in a statement. "I am hopeful that these measures will help the community control the spread of COVID-19 quickly."

Under Oregon’s stay-at-home status, gyms, malls, and entertainment venues must close. Restaurants in the county are limited to takeout and delivery only. Social gatherings are also capped at 10 people.

The state’s Phase 1 reopening guidelines allow for restaurants and bars to offer dine-in service until 10 p.m. with face mask and social distancing restrictions.

Ten people maximum may attend indoor social gatherings while distancing. Other gatherings are capped at 50 people, indoors and outdoors.

According to the governor’s office, Umatilla County has averaged 51 new cases per day and reports more cases per capita than any other Oregon county at 234 cases per 10,000 people. The county also has a weekly test positivity rate of 23 percent.

Morrow County, meanwhile, has 213 reported cases per 10,000 people, based on Oregon Health Authority data.

The county has a weekly test positivity rate of 30 percent and has averaged seven new cases daily in the past two weeks.

The numbers in Umatilla and Morrow do not bode well for meeting state guidelines for reopening local schools in the fall.

Counties must maintain a 5 percent positivity rate or lower and a case per capita count of 20 or fewer cases per 100,000 people for three straight weeks. Only Wheeler County currently meets that criteria roughly one month before the start of the new school year.

The Portland and Salem-Keizer public school districts have already announced they will begin the school year online only.

Umatilla joins nine other counties on the state’s “County Watch List” compiled by OHA, which identifies counties seeing the worst increases in COVID-19 cases.

Counties placed on the watch list are subject to increased monitoring by OHA and eligible for additional support such as contact tracing assistance and testing.

The state’s list currently includes Umatilla, Baker, Hood River, Jefferson, Lake, Malheur, Marion, Morrow, Multnomah and Wasco counties.

Seven case investigators and 29 contact tracers were sent to Umatilla County on June 26 and remain there, according to the governor’s office. One public information officer and two case investigators were sent to Morrow County on July 18.

On Thursday, OHA reported 416 new cases statewide and five new deaths from COVID-19, bringing the total case count to 18,131 and the total deal toll to 316.

Umatilla County made up 101 of cases reported Thursday by OHA.

The department noted in Thursday’s numbers that Umatilla’s case count appeared higher due to a “delay in processing their electronic laboratory reports.”

OHA officials confirmed in an email that the delay was "due to the local health department lagging in entering the data into the system."

Staff Reporter

Tim Gruver is a politics and public policy reporter. He is a University of Washington alum and the recipient of the 2017 Pioneer News Award for Reporting. His work has appeared in Politico, the Kitsap Daily News, and the Northwest Asian Weekly.