Linn County commissioners prepare plan to reopen local economy

The balancing act of keeping people safe while reopening the economy will be difficult, while consumer confidence in going back outside will play a key role in its success.

Posted: May 6, 2020 7:00 PM
Updated: May 6, 2020 7:53 PM

ALBANY, Ore. -- It's been as difficult a time as Linn County Commissioner Roger Nyquist can remember in his time leading local government.

But amid the coronavirus pandemic flaring up in certain spots around Linn County, Nyquist said that the structures are in place to facilitate reopening parts of the economy in accordance with Gov. Kate Brown's plan. 

"I think it's proving to be a tougher task than the governor's office thought it would be because you've got 36 counties," said Nyquist. "This is a really diverse place, the state of Oregon, and you've got multiple local economies and how you do all that in a way that gives people a chance to get up and going."

Linn County is no stranger to the delicate balance of economic viability and public health. Their unemployment numbers have increased dramatically, while the county has also seen several small outbreaks at veterans homes and, most recently, at the National Frozen Foods Albany facility. In a statement released by Linn County Public Health on Wednesday afternoon, there were 34 total positive tests related to the facility. That number includes 30 employees and four of their family or other household members. A total of 191 National Frozen employees were tested despite being asymptomatic, with 10 resulting in positive results. 

Despite the setback of positive cases, National Frozen has since conducted a cleaning of the facility under the supervision of Linn County Public Health and the Oregon Health Authority. In a news release, the company also stated they ordered additional personal protective equipment for employee safety and completed a walkthrough with Linn County Environmental Health. The plant is expected to reopen sometime in the next 24 hours, officials said Wednesday afternoon. 

While containing hotspots around the area, hospital capacity has never been threatened in the area, Nyquist said. Steps have been taken so that the area will be proactive if any possible flareups of the virus occur again. 

"The number of hospital beds per population in this area is good, is strong, that's never been under pressure," Nyquist said. "Adequate testing, especially for our group homes and senior facilities, signing the contract with the folks in Corvallis that get us up to 1,000 tests a week for those that need complete testing done."

Linn County Public Health has also added 20 people to their team to be contact tracers. But economic drivers are beginning to play a key role, despite the viral curve only flattening instead of bending downward, in reopening local businesses. Nyquist believes that counties that are ready to start that process, the way he believes Linn County is, should be able to. 

"(We're) concerned for the health of the medically vulnerable and doing what we reasonably can to get the right assets to make sure that folks have the best chance possible," said Nyquist. "It's been devastating to watch the economy. Small business owners I've known my whole life that may not reopen that three months ago were on top of the world."

But ultimately, the bigger question will come down to consumer confidence. If businesses reopen but consumers don't feel that partonizing those businesses is safe, it will negate the idea of reopening sectors of the economy entirely. 

"Reopening in a way that the public feels safe is important becuase if you have a business and the public fears going out isn't going to accomplish much," said Nyquist. "So it needs to be thoughtful. It needs to be timely."

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