I'm as eager as anyone to have Marion County get back to a semblance of normality in these coronavirus times. i miss my Tai Chi classes. I miss going to the Courthouse Athletic Club. I miss having my hair cut (though I'm looking more like Willy Nelson every day, which can't be a bad thing).
But I'm also an avid reader of the daily Oregon Coronavirus Update that gets emailed to me by the Oregon Health Authority (OHA). Disturbingly often, Marion County has an outsized number of new cases, frequently outpacing Multnomah County which has a much larger population.
According to the most recent OHA data, May 8, Oregon as a whole has had 3,068 confirmed coronavirus cases. Marion County has had 626, 20% of the state total. Yet in 2019 Marion County comprised only 8% of the Oregon population (347,818 out of 4.218 million).
Nonetheless, a few days ago the Salem Reporter ran a story by Saphara Harrell and Rachel Alexander, "With highest COVID-19 rate in the state, Marion County wants to start reopening businesses."
Marion County says it is ready to start lifting restrictions intended to slow the spread of COVID-19. But the county’s plan, released Wednesday, will face its first test when it’s sent to the governor’s office to determine if the area has met key measures needed to reopen.
The proposal by the Marion County Board of Commissioners comes as the county is experiencing the highest rate of the coronavirus infections in the state and lags behind other urban counties in testing.
Marion County hasn’t met many of the state’s requirements for reopening, including adequate testing, adequate contact tracers or a downward trajectory of cases over a 14-day period. But on Wednesday, materials were presented at the board meeting making the case that the county is making progress on key measures.
OK. But progress is one thing. Meeting the state's requirements is a whole other thing. It seems to me that Marion County should be one of the last counties in Oregon to start reopening businesses, churches, and such, not one of the first.
Today I looked over Marion County's application to the state to begin reopening. As the Salem Reporter story says, Marion County isn't meeting some of the criteria that the state says are needed to ensure the safety of people as Governor Brown's Stay Home, Save Lives orders are gradually relaxed.
Notably, the number of new coronavirus cases in Marion County isn't on a two-week downward trend. A chart in the Marion County application shows this.
Two weeks from May 1 was April 17, which is just past the legend on the horizontal axis. I didn't do any sophisticated statistical analysis of that two-week trend, or even an unsophisticated analysis. But it seems obvious that the Marion County application to start reopening on May 15 doesn't demonstrate a two-week downward trend in new coronavirus cases.
Instead, the application says, "There has been a decline of cases from a peak on April 19, 2020." Well, yes. April 19 was the high point so far in new Marion County cases. But cherry-picking one day doesn't make a trend. My eyeballs don't see any sort of overall trend -- just a steady increase in cases with ups and downs in the daily count.
County-level data from the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center confirms that Marion County isn't experiencing a recent downturn in confirmed coronavirus cases. Here's the graph for Marion County. Sure doesn't look like any "bending the curve" is going on in Marion County so far. The last data point is May 7, yesterday.
Here's the graph for Multnomah County, which has the most cases in Oregon. A small bit of bending seems to be occurring.
I readily admit that part of my skepticism about Marion County being ready to start reopening stems from the deeply conservative bent of the three Republican county commissioners. I don't trust that they're committed to using the best science to base reopening plans on. Rather, I strongly suspect that their Trumpian brand of politics is at play.
Namely, wrongly believing that the Marion County economy can start getting back to normal even though the coronavirus crisis hasn't abated. If people are afraid to go to work, shop, eat at a restaurant, visit a gym, or whatever, it doesn't matter if those places are reopened. Probably they will be largely empty until the COVID-19 outbreak is on a decided downturn in Marion County.
Which, right now, it isn't.
Any what's up with the director of the Marion County Public Health Department refusing to comment on the Salem Reporter story? That also seems Trump-like.
The Health Authority this week released case numbers by ZIP code, showing the Gervais and Woodburn areas were leading the state in the number of cases per capita.
Two weeks ago, Katrina Rothenberger, director of the Marion County Public Health Department, said the numbers concerned her that the county was headed in the wrong direction.
On Wednesday, Rothenberger declined an interview through a county spokeswoman.