A COVID-19 particle is pictured in this image provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC/CONTRIBUTED PHOTO]

Baker County dropped from the extreme-risk level under the state’s COVID-19 guidelines to high risk on Friday, Feb. 5, Baker County Commissioner Mark Bennett said.

Mark Bennett

Mark Bennett

And based on the county’s number of new virus cases and test positivity rate for the two-week measuring period that ends today, Feb. 6, the county is on pace to drop to the lowest of the four risk levels starting Feb. 12.

That would allow restaurants, which have been limited to takeout and outdoor dining for all but two weeks since Dec. 3, to offer indoor dining up to 50% of their dining capacity starting Feb. 12.

They can resume more limited indoor dining under the high-risk designation, too.

Under high risk, restaurants are limited to 25% of their capacity for indoor dining or 50 people total, including staff, whichever is fewer.

The same limits apply to gyms, theaters and museums.

Assisted living facilities and other long-term care centers can resume visits, which are prohibited for counties in the extreme-risk category.

Bennett said Oregon Gov. Kate Brown intervened on the county’s behalf Friday, acknowledging that the Oregon Health Authority’s (OHA) COVID-19 case count for the county was too high for the period Jan. 10-23. The state agency had pegged the number of cases at 66, which would put the county in the extreme-risk category.

But the actual number was 54, Bennett said, which qualified the county for the high-risk category.

He said OHA neglected to delete 12 cases among inmates at the Powder River Correctional Facility in Baker City. This is the second time the state has failed to deduct those cases, which are not supposed to be used to set a county’s risk level because the inmates are incarcerated and don’t interact with the community.

“This is a great step in the right direction for our community and local businesses,” Bennett said. “I’m grateful for the work of Nancy Staten, the Health Department director, Jason Yencopal, the Emergency Management director, and Dr. Eric Lamb, the county’s Public Health Officer, for their work in identifying the discrepancy and following up. Thank you, too, to the State of Oregon for working with us to review the data and correct the issue.”

Bennett said the OHA has also corrected a problem that led to inflated counts of positive tests in the county. That was related to some of the county’s tests being processed in Idaho labs, and being counted twice, he said. That mistake boosted the county’s positivity rate, which, along with new case counts, determine the county’s risk level.

As of Friday, the county had 18 new cases during the two-week measuring period, and a positivity rate of about 2.7% (down from 8.2% based on the inflated test totals).Both figures would qualify the county to move to the lower-risk level starting Feb. 12. The threshold for that level is no more than 29 new cases, and a positivity rate of below 5%.

The county’s rate of new cases over the past two weeks has been the lowest since mid-October.

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