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Known Oregon Coronavirus Cases Surpass 800

<p>There is currently no vaccine to prevent contracting COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus.</p>

There is currently no vaccine to prevent contracting COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus.

UPDATE (April 3, 10:04 p.m. PT) — Oregon state and local health officials reported 73 new known cases of the novel coronavirus Friday afternoon, bringing the state’s total to 899. 

OHA also announced one additional death Friday. The state now has 22 known deaths from the virus.

 #160; 

The latest death was a 71-year-old man in Polk County who had underlying medical conditions, OHA said.  

OHA also said Friday that although people can wear non-medical masks, it does not mean they should stop social distancing measures. 

“Oregon Health Authority is reminding Oregonians that staying home and avoiding all non-essential contact with others continues to be the most important thing all of us can do to stay healthy and keep others healthy,” the agency said.

Oregon, Washington health officials support face coverings

Top health officials in three Portland-area counties backed federal recommendations Friday evening that people cover their faces when they’re out in public. Health officers for Clackamas, Multnomah and Washington counties acknowledged it's a change from advice they'd given not long ago, but said as science improves and concerns heighten, making changes is not a surprise.

“I think there’s a real sense of urgency to do everything we can to prevent spread," Dr. Jennifer Vines, tri-county health officer, said Friday.

Vines repeated that all the earlier recommendations still apply, such as washing hands frequently. Clackamas County health officer Dr. Sarah Present emphasized that wearing a face covering doesn't mean people should relax their social distancing practices. The officials said people should stay home except for essential trips and people who are sick should avoid going out at all. The facial covering is an additional safeguard, the health officials said. 

"This additional recommendation that we think offers some benefit, again for containing droplets, and potentially for those people who have the virus but are not showing symptoms,” Vines said.

The Oregon officials don't want people seeking out N-95 respirators or surgical masks, saying those should be reserved for health workers. The officials repeatedly differentiated "mask" and "face covering" in their Friday night video conference with reporters. The health officers said that cloth coverings from home are fine, so long as they're clean and don't cause the wearer to touch their face. Local and federal officials have said the facial coverings are primarily for situations where it’s hard to maintain 6 feet away from other people, such as in a grocery store aisle.

The Oregon health officials said that wearing cloth coverings is still a recommendation and no enforcement is planned.

Later Friday evening, the Washington State Department of Health issued a similar statement, aligning with the face coverings recommendation from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But like the county health officers in Oregon, Washington also emphasized that face coverings alone weren't enough.

"This recommendation is not a substitute for existing guidance to maintain 6-feet of physical distance from non-household members and performing frequent hand hygiene with soap and water or alcohol-based hand sanitizer," the Washington State Department of Health said in their Friday night message.

"Wearing cloth face coverings will not prevent spread of COVID-19 without these other protective measures."

Washington nears 7,000 cases

The total number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Clark County is 137 and eight people are known to have died from COVID-19, according to public health officials. Clark County Public Health announced six new positive cases Friday and no additional known deaths.

Washington had 6,966 diagnosed cases of the coronavirus and 284 related deaths as of Friday afternoon, according to the Washington Department of Health.

First Oregon prison inmate diagnosed with coronavirus

The Oregon Department of Corrections announced Thursday night that an inmate at the Santiam Correctional Institution in Salem tested positive for COVID-19

The inmate is the first incarcerated person in an Oregon prison to test positive for the virus. 

The DOC said the unidentified inmate is in stable condition and being treated in the facility but is moving to “an institution with 24-hour nursing care.”

Roughly 480 inmates are housed at the Salem facility.

The announcement comes a day after the Department of Corrections announced a staff member at the Oregon State Penitentiary tested positive for the virus. 

Washington County Sheriff’s Office employee tests positive for coronavirus

The Washington County Sheriff’s Office said Friday that a staff member in its patrol division has tested positive for coronavirus.

People who worked closely with the staff member have been notified, the office said. 

The staff member is currently in self-quarantine. 

Washington County has the highest number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the state at 228, according to OHA.

TriMet issuing masks to drivers

TriMet, the Portland area’s public transportation agency, announced Friday that it will be issuing face coverings to its drivers and operators. 

“While medical masks need to be saved for health care workers, health experts are now saying face coverings — a type of non-medical mask — are okay as added protection in public spaces,” the agency said on Twitter.

TriMet said it received a donation of disposable face coverings and will also receive a supply of washable cloth coverings from Multnomah County in the coming days.

Vancouver issues new economic protections

Vancouver City Manager Eric Holmes issued more emergency orders Friday to reduce the economic impact of COVID-19 on Southwest Washington residents and businesses.

The measures would stop the city from collecting business license fees, allow the Vancouver Farmers Market to resume with protections in place, protect residents from having their utilities cut off, and make residential foreclosures illegal during the crisis, unless there is a safety threat.

Holmes' orders also go beyond protections currently in place statewide for businesses. Vancouver small businesses can no longer be evicted for not paying rent during the pandemic. The protection would apply to any business with 50 or fewer employees.

The Vancouver City Council is scheduled to take up the executive orders for review on Monday, where they would have the option to modify or terminate them. If approved, the orders would last until April 30.

Steve Valenta, owner of the popular eatery The Mighty Bowl, said halting evictions for small businesses is prudent. His restaurant and two food trucks employed 28 people.

“I think the more we can freeze and hold still — to protect everything that was — is just going to keep fewer people from being injured,” he said.

Valenta said the owner of his restaurant’s building already assured him he wouldn’t collect rent yet. But, he said he hoped the city’s orders, combined with disaster loans, could help other business survive.

“I think having real humans have their livelihoods threatened, to have to be evicted and go out of business, I think the anxiety and stress that would cost business owners and employees is a lot,” he said.

Elections officials urge Oregonians to vote by mail

Elections officials are telling people to vote by mail for the upcoming May 19 primary election, keeping social distancing measures in mind to attempt to slow the spread of coronavirus. 

Last August, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown signed a bill into law requiring the state to pay for ballot postage. That means returning ballots by mail is now free for all Oregonians. 

“We’re asking voters — outside of essential needs — to stay home, stay safe, and when you get your ballot in the mail, vote early,” Multnomah County elections director Tim Scott said in a statement.

Washington stay-at-home order extended through early May

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee Thursday extended the state’s stay-at-home order through May 4.

The order, which keeps non-essential businesses closed and most of the state’s residents home, was set to expire next week. 

Southwest Washington schools unsure on reopen date

When he told Washingtonians to stay home four more weeks, Gov. Jay Inslee expressed hope work would quickly follow to rebuild the pre-outbreak way of life.

“We are going to reopen our parks, we are going to reopen our restaurants, we are going to reopen our schools and today is a big step toward doing all of those things,” he said.

Inslee extended his statewide stay-at-home order until May 4. While parks and businesses can circle May 5 as a potential day to resume work, it’s less clear when schools will return to session.

As of Friday, Washington schools are still slated to reopen April 27. No new guidance has been issued. Inslee said discussions are underway to determine “next steps” for schools.

An announcement could come early next week, said Katy Payne, a spokesperson for the state’s Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction. “Please stay tuned!” she added.

Some local school officials don’t expect in-person classes to resume this school year. Nathan McCann, superintendent of Ridgefield School District, said the district expects classwork to stay exclusively virtual.

“I was not surprised and the work we’ve been doing here in the school district has been under the assumption that we would not be returning to school this year,” he said. 

Pat Nuzzo, spokesperson for Vancouver School District, said the district is waiting for further clarification. They asked schools to remove the April 27 date from electronic reader boards, and have no dates referenced.

“We are waiting for the further clarification,” she said.

Copyright 2020 Oregon Public Broadcasting

Meerah Powell, Troy Brynelson