To:  Public Officials

From:  George Murdock

Subject:  Public Officials Update

Date:  May 19, 2020

   This report is a few hours later than usual due to the fact we held our staff meeting and visited with our Public Health Director this morning rather than Monday.  In addition, as you are aware, COVID-19 management in Oregon turned a new direction on Monday afternoon when a Baker County Circuit Court Judge ruled the Governor has exceeded her authority in handing down declarations without consulting the Legislature.  The Oregon Supreme Court rode into the rescue in almost record time last night, but the case remains undecided.

   I try to make these reports apolitical but it is becoming increasingly important that communities listen carefully to the League of Oregon Cities as the relationship between everything outside of the Portland Metro area and the state becomes more contentious.  This is driven primarily because of the CARES funding question and why money intended for our county and cities is being withheld.

   AOC sent a letter this morning to every legislator and commissioner, as well as our federal delegation, questioning that fact.  Copies may be obtained for anyone interested in seeing it.  I suspect LOC has done much the same thing. 

   I raise the issue of paying careful attention because right now the county and our cities have protections from potential litigation because they are not the ones who established the declarations.  However, if by chance the Baker City court case does get upheld, then the county and cities need to be very thoughtful in making sure we protect the health and safety of our citizens in the least restrictive manner and in the form of recommendations – not directives. 

 Medical Update:

   We met this morning with Joe Fiumara, our public health director, and were reminded of the incidence of new cases in Umatilla County continues to arise – primarily in the Hermiston-Umatilla area.  Sadly, we experienced our third death and our number of confirmed cases has risen to 102.  Dr. Hitzman was not with us this morning as he is with us Monday morning but also sees patients the rest of the week. 

   We are still we behind Benton and Franklin Counties with 1,000 confirmed cases and roughly 70 deaths but among Oregon counties, we are rapidly overtaking Multnomah County in cases per thousand which would put us second in Oregon.

   We are finding very few random cases in the county but rather new cases that are often traced to single, identified sources.    


   Friday afternoon, Commissioners Murdock and Shafer participated in a conference with Round-Up officials, Governor Brown, other state officials, Joe, and Dr. Hitzman to discuss the status of Round-Up.  Included on the conference was Dr. Sidelinger, the state epidemiologist. 

   The discussion included the likelihood of an event of this magnitude could happen in September and various alternatives.  From my vantage point, there didn’t seem like a lot of possibilities that would take an event from 50,000 visitors from all over the world down to a reasonable size.  At times during the conference, Governor Brown spoke of just ripping of the bandage, but it never happened, and no decision has been made. 

   In the end, it was felt that with Round-Up slated for mid-September, something could still develop that would change the landscape but that that prognosis was marginal.  The group agreed to reconvene in mid-June for a further look.  The drop-dead date for Round-Up will happen somewhere around the first of July.  Another factor that hasn’t seen much play is the matter of insurance coverage and the willingness of those who ensure such events to extend coverage.   

   As we noted last week, the Umatilla County Fair is making radical changes and while the final details are still in the making, it will be much reduced and primarily a 4-H and FFA show with the livestock auction.  It keeps getting reported it’s an online auction but efforts are being made to have it be a combination of on-line and live. 

   The Farm-City Pro Rodeo has pulled the plug for this year.  That, coupled with Bike Week, pretty well takes care of anything planned through July and early August.  We will continue to keep you posted as well as we can in light of the rumor mill. 

   If I had a dollar for every call and argument I’ve had over the validity of Facebook postings, I’d emerge from this thing quite wealthy. 


   While Umatilla County’s application for reopening under the guidelines of Phase 1 was ultimately approved, it appears the state’s ability to review the applications in a timely manner rivaled the ability of the Unemployment Department to process claims via an antiquated computer system.  I went to get a haircut yesterday and the individual providing the service said he never did get his benefits so he was happy to be back at work.    

   While we are grateful our application was approved, the process was like making sausage and while the end product is good, it is well not many people actually saw how it came down. 


   Guidance for more and more sectors is becoming available which helps answer the myriad of questions from responsible local entities seeking to do the right thing.   As we move forward, I think we are going to see more and more of the liability and responsibility passed down in our direction.  The Governor has already indicated that the State Police lack the capacity to provide enforcement.

   This leaves enforcement in most cases to local police departments and the sheriff’s office.  So, for those of you with a police department, that’s a conversation you will want to be having with your officers in terms of their appetite for enforcing the guidelines. 

   I’ve already gotten information telling us that local police departments are getting calls or complaints from citizens who witness perceived violations.  At the moment, the funds that would augment our ability to respond to this question and others related to new demands would have been part of the CARES funding sent to Oregon. 

   One individual who doesn’t have a choice in the matter of enforcement is our Director of Public Health, Joe Fiumara, who is bound by law to enforce any regulations related to some aspect of public health.  He also oversees the same department that addresses permits for food and similar services. 

   If a measure of my frustration is sneaking into the conversation it is that we didn’t make the decision to close Oregon – it just happened.  The decision to reopen Oregon is considerably more ambiguous and while we are not driving the bus, we are having to be very nimble in making sure we aren’t under it.

   We are now spending much of every day trying to interpret regulations and guidelines for various individuals and entities who don’t have a complete roadmap to guide them.    

Personal Choices

   As we share every week, there are some residents who are concerned about a premature opening.  We continue to emphasize the fact those with pre-existing conditions and the elderly need to shelter as much as possible.  Distancing is also very much advisable as is personal hygiene and limited travel.  Don’t go to work if you are sick.  In the end, a lot of this is personal choices and avoiding contact with others as the best way to stay safe.

                COVID-19 Cases in Umatilla County

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                   COVID-19 Testing in Umatilla County









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