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

With its COVID-19 case rate dropping to the lowest level in more than six months, Baker County appears to be on pace to return to the state’s lowest risk level, which would double indoor dining capacity at restaurants at the start of Memorial Day weekend.

For the 10-day period May 14-23, the county reported four new cases, according to the Baker County Health Department.

That’s the fewest new cases in a 10-day period since mid-October 2020, when the county had three new cases over 14 days, Oct. 10-23.

Baker County had no new cases for at least four straight days — May 20-23. That’s the longest stretch without a new case in the county since October, when the county had 13 consecutive days — Oct. 7-19 — without a case.

The Oregon Health Authority (OHA) sets county risk levels based on case counts and positivity rates over a two-week period.

The next day risk levels can change is Friday, May 28. Any changes will be based on counties’ statistics for the period May 9-22.

Baker County reported 15 new cases during that stretch, and a test positivity rate of 3.9%.

Both figures would qualify the county to drop to the lowest risk level. The thresholds are fewer than 30 new cases, and a positivity rate below 5%.

Baker County hasn’t been at the lowest risk level since April 22.

The county moved to the high risk level on April 23, then to extreme risk on April 30. The county returned to high risk on May 7 and has been at that level since.

The county met one of the two thresholds to drop from high risk to moderate risk starting May 21, but the positivity rate was 8.9% — slightly above the 8.0% threshold for moderate risk.

County Commissioner Mark Bennett, who has served as the county’s incident commander throughout the pandemic, said on Monday, May 24 that he believes the county has qualified to drop to the lowest risk level.

“We feel like we’ve been making progress,” Bennett said.

He said the county’s goal is to remain at the lowest risk level until Oregon Gov. Kate Brown cancels all state-imposed restrictions.

The governor said earlier this month that she will end the mandates, which would do away with the risk level system that’s been in place since December 2020, when at least 70% of Oregonians age 18 and older are partially or fully vaccinated, a goal she hopes the state will reach before the end of June. As of Monday, the statewide vaccination rate, among people 18 and older, was 64%, according to the OHA.

When Baker County’s risk level drops to the lowest level, restaurants and bars can have 50% of capacity with no limit on the total number of people. At high risk, these businesses are limited for indoor dining to 25% of capacity or 50 total people, including staff, whichever is fewer.

Other differences between lowest risk and high risk:

• Outdoor recreation, including K-12 sports — capacity rises from 75 people under high risk, to 300 people under lowest risk.

• Indoor entertainment, including theaters and museums, and indoor recreation and fitness, including gyms and K-12 sports — capacity rises from 25% of occupancy or 50 total people under high risk, to 50% capacity, with no limit on total people, under lowest risk.

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