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Multnomah County chair says quick submission of equity plan would have been a mistake

When Oregon officials announced last week which counties were moving into the lowest risk category, and thus would be able to reduce COVID-19-related restrictions on businesses and social gatherings, there was one notable absence.

The Oregon Health Authority and Gov. Kate Brown had laid out two criteria to move to “lower risk” status: provide the first dose of COVID-19 vaccine to at least 65% of county residents age 16 and over, and submit an equity plan to close vaccination gaps based on race and ethnicity.

Six counties achieved the 65% vaccination level across various parts of the state; Multnomah and Washington counties in the Portland area, Benton County in the southern Willamette Valley, coastal Lincoln County, Deschutes County in central Oregon, and Hood River County in the Columbia River Gorge.

But unlike the others, Multnomah County did not receive permission to move into the “lower risk” category.

The reason? The other five counties had submitted the required equity plans, and Multnomah County had not.

Now it has.

In an appearance on OPB’s Think Out Loud, county Chair Deborah Kafoury, said her team needed the additional time to finalize the plan.

“It’s detailed, and it was built in partnership with community, which takes a little longer to do than just throwing spaghetti on the wall,” Kafoury said. “But it’s important. It’s what we believe in, and we wanted to take the time to do it right.

“... For us, we could’ve thrown something together quickly, but it wouldn’t have been real. Each of the counties in Oregon … have worked really hard and done a really good job and that’s why they’re able to move into the low risk category.”

Kafoury said the county submitted its equity plan Friday because the state indicated that deadlines were on Fridays. But Kafoury is hoping that the state doesn’t wait until next Friday to move Multnomah County into “lower risk.” Instead she hopes that when the announcement of new county risk levels come out Tuesday, the state can allow the county to move into that most permissive category right away.

Copyright 2021 Oregon Public Broadcasting

Rob Manning, Allison Frost