Umatilla County moves from extreme to high risk after commissioners appeal to state

HERMISTON, Ore. – On Tuesday, Governor Kate Brown announced 16 Oregon counties will move into new phases on February 26th, including Umatilla County.

Umatilla will move from extreme, down to high risk. This allows for limited indoor dining, people returning into gyms and changes for school districts.

“You know we’ll just have to wait and see how it goes,” Owner of KRISanthemums and Bennett Gardens, Kris Bennett said.

Bennett, recounts the conversations she’s had with 2020 and 2021 brides and grooms.

“A lot of the weddings from last year just automatically rebooked to next year, some of them didn’t care, they just wanted to get married, there was a couple weddings where they kept the limit to 25,” she said.

Bennett is also a part of the Hermiston Chamber of Commerce. She said it’s been a trying time for locally-owned businesses.

“We just trudge on, we’re all hard workers, and we love where we live we love our community, we love our small businesses and we try to promote them as much as possible,” she said.

Bennett said the move from extreme to high risk feels like a glimmer of hope, but it almost didn’t happen.

“We thought we had 12 cases and all the sudden the Oregon Health Authority said we had 72,” Umatilla County Commissioner George Murdock recalled.

RELATED: Washington, Oregon report cases of new strain of Coronavirus

Murdock said last week, as they were preparing to submit case counts to the Oregon Health Authority, they discovered the Yellowhawk Tribal Health Center had reported 58 cases that dated back to June. Since these weren’t relevant or active cases, Murdock made an appeal to the state, saying their county’s case count was much lower.

“We had 156 cases over two weeks plus our positivity rate was under 10 percent,” he said.

According to Umatilla County Public Health, Yellowhawk sent a backlog of COVID-19 tests to the OHA, 58 of them were positive, but were confirmed not to be present.

KAPP KVEW has reached out to the health center to find out why they reported old numbers, but have yet to hear back.

Those cases were not counted with Umatilla County’s and the state granted their appeal to move forward in phases.

“It makes such a difference to have some measure of inside dining and those kinds of things. I think it will help us move towards the next level because people will now see progress,” Murdock said.

Bennett said the move will be monumental for locally-owned businesses, including her own.

“Hermiston’s very resilient and they’re a very giving community. We’ll bounce back that’s for sure,” she said.

Umatilla County will move into high risk on Friday, February 26th.