Despite Reopening, County Health Official Says COVID-19 Is Still Around

The Lane County’s Health and Human Services urges people to continue social distancing even during Phase 1 reopening

Screenshot of Lane County Board of County Commissioners May 19 meeting

On Friday, May 15, Lane County transitioned into Phase 1 of reopening along with 27 other Oregon counties. Under certain restrictions, customers are able to start visiting restaurants, bars and more, according to Gov. Kate Brown. However, some health officials are still wary of this change.

Karen Gaffney, the director of the Lane County Health and Human Services department, urges residents to continue social distancing despite the recent move into Phase 1 of reopening Lane County. The health department is also preparing for Phase 2, which it anticipates will be around June 5. They also anticipate a second wave of COVID-19, though they don’t know when that will happen.

On Tuesday, May 19, the Lane County Board of Commissioners held their morning meeting via Zoom. A majority of the meeting was spent debriefing COVID-19 and the next steps. 

Even though Lane County went into Phase 1 of the reopening process on May 15, meaning that certain restrictions were lifted, Gaffney still recommends that people take similar precautions as before. 

“It’s important right now while some of the restrictions are being relaxed, that everyone remembers our efforts to flatten the curve,” Gaffney said during the May 19 meeting. “The virus is absolutely still circulating in the community.”

As of this writing, 65 people have tested positive for the coronavirus and two deaths in Lane County.

Gaffney says in order for the county to move forward, “it’s critically important that people still do everything they can in terms of hygiene and distancing to protect themselves, protect each other and our community.”

She detailed the department’s commitment for opening respite centers around town for those who are unhoused — one at the Lane Events Center in Eugene and one at the Willamalane Memorial Building in Springfield. The county isn’t currently opening up beds to new people in those centers to protect those who are there from exposure to COVID-19.

“We knew going into this time that there was a significant homeless crisis in our community,” Gaffney said. “We’ve learned some things during our opportunity of responding to COVID, but we’re not going to be able to solve all of that in this particular moment either.”

Gaffney then detailed the tentative plan for moving to Phase 2 of the reopening process, ideally on June 5. 

“June 5 isn’t a magical date,” she said. “We selected that date because we anticipate that’s when we’ll be eligible to move to Phase 2 of the reopening process. That’s the phase where more of the community will be opened up and people will have better access to their usual routes for resources and support.”

For now, the county’s health department is working on outreach and preventative methods. 

“We’ve been doing neighborhood COVID-19 educational outreach to individuals who don’t speak English and who have a challenging time accessing information,” Gaffney said. “We’ve trained five individuals so far to really help share COVID information and other resource information in that community.”

The health department is also prepared, according to Gaffney, for a second wave of COVID-19. She says it’s likely there will be a second wave, but they don’t know when it will hit Lane County. 

“In order to be prepared for that we need to have maximum testing resources in the community and strong contact tracing, and good supplies of PPE [personal protective equipment] so our hospitals and health care workers are able and ready to respond,” she said. 

However, Gaffney and the Health and Human Services department also recognize the importance of reopening businesses. “As good stewards of public resources, we know that while we are able to contain the spread of disease in the community, it’s important for businesses to be able to reopen and for commerce to be able to flow. So we are committed to doing both of those things together in a way that protects the health of the community in the very best way possible.” 

County Commission meetings are open to the public every Tuesday morning and afternoon via the Lane County website. To participate in commenting, audience members need to register at  

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