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'We have been anticipating the possibility of stricter measures': Malheur County could be moved back in Oregon's re-opening plan

The director for the county's health department told KTVB that due to the increase in COVID-19 cases, the state could implement more restrictions.

MALHEUR COUNTY, Ore. — Across the state line in Malheur County, Ore., the COVID-19 situation is similar to Idaho's. Click here for the latest Idaho coronavirus updates.

In fact, the director for the county's health department said she's expecting the state to move the county back into Stage One of Oregon's reopening plan.

Currently, Malheur County is in Stage Two of the three-stage state plan.

Earlier this month, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown announced a county 'watch list.' These are counties where the spread of COVID-19 is getting worse. The state is keeping an eye on them and if it continues to get worse, the state could put in more restrictions. 

Malheur County is on that watch list, but for now, is remaining in Stage Two.

However, Sarah Poe, the director of the Malheur County Health Department, would support more restrictions.

“We have been anticipating the possibility of stricter measures to reduce the risk of COVID-19 in Malheur County,” Poe said. 

As of Tuesday, Malheur County is reporting 520 cases of COVID-19, six deaths, and three people currently in the hospital. Additionally, the county's test positivity rate was up to 16.5%. 

This means 16.5% percent of their tests were coming back with positive results. Their goal is to keep it under 5%.

“If the time to really react is only after we have a ton of severe cases and hospitalizations, it's too late,” Poe said. “So, this is the time that we have to act to be able to prevent more loss of life.”

If the county were to be moved back into Stage One, some businesses would have to close again, along with other precautionary measures.

“What it would mean is churches would go down to gatherings of 25, we would see youth sports canceled, entertainment venues both in and outdoors would be closed,” Poe said.

Gyms, restaurants, and bars would all be allowed to stay open, even in Stage One. 

Rather than businesses being forced to close again, Poe wants to see people follow the guidance to slow the spread.

“We know what works, it’s not debatable,” Poe said. “Wearing face coverings, keeping social distance, washing your hands vigorously, keeping away from big crowds or large gatherings.”

One thing will impact Malheur County restaurants and bars starting on Friday. Gov. Brown ordered all restaurants and bars in Stage Two counties to close their doors at 10 p.m. to slow the spread.

In addition, everyone over the age of five will be required to wear a face-covering indoors and outdoors when social distancing isn’t possible. The previous order made exceptions for children 12 and under.

The new order also applies when people are in a gym and exercising.

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RELATED: 'It was just a matter of time': Months into pandemic, COVID-19 surges in rural Malheur County

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