Linn County’s COVID-19 transmission risk designation is set to increase for the first time in weeks — from moderate to high, based on Oregon Health Authority standards — and health experts are warning about a potential Easter surge in cases.
Linn County has sat at the moderate risk level since early March, while Benton County has been categorized as high risk over that same time frame. Linn County’s risk level increases on Friday.
The higher risk level triggers some additional restrictions on businesses and activities in Linn County. For instance, indoor service at restaurants and bars will be limited to 50 people or 25% of capacity, whichever is less. Outdoor seating capacity will be limited to 75 people.
County officials say that the higher transmission risk is due to an increase in out-of-area travel and large-scale gatherings as weather improves. They also generally attributed it to people relaxing their social distancing and mask-wearing.
“People are getting tired of wearing masks, and people are getting more lackadaisical,” said Linn County Commissioner Will Tucker. “I think part of that is in the fact that there’s been some COVID-19 resistance to the length of time we’ve been in this. It was supposed to be a few months, and now here we are more than a year later.”
That fatigue over social distancing guidelines was highlighted as the main concern for county officials, aside from continuing to increase the number of vaccines administered per week.
“The sun is out, people have changed their entire lives for more than a year and people are eager to interact,” said Commissioner Roger Nyquist. “I think we’re fighting that a bit.”
Since county risk assessments are based on two-week case averages, the recent rise in new cases isn’t tied to large gatherings from Easter weekend. That said, a surge in cases over the coming weeks due to the holiday could hold Linn County’s risk assessment at the higher level for weeks to come.
The county risk increase also hasn’t been tied to any one business, gathering or location. County officials emphasized, for instance, that there’s been no uptick in cases associated with the resumption of in-person schooling.
“When we’ve been doing tracing, we haven’t been able to find … a single common reason for those increased case numbers,” Tucker said.
Officials say that this risk-level increase demonstrates why residents need to continue to be diligent with social distancing protocols and mask-wearing.
“We encourage people to wear a mask in accordance with state guidelines," said Nyquist. “We also ask them to consider their group activities and social gatherings in general, per Centers for Disease Control guidelines.”
Officials stressed the importance of getting vaccinated as a way of reducing overall caseloads and severity of cases.