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Oregon inches closer to lifting COVID restrictions

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — As Oregon inches closer to reaching the statewide vaccination target, at least 22 of the state's 36 counties have moved into the “lower risk” level, health officials announced Tuesday.

Counties in the “lower risk” category can increase capacity for indoor dining, theaters, gyms and other indoor entertainment spaces to 50%. The risk level also allows expansion of indoor gatherings to 10 people and increases retail store capacity to 75%

While county risk levels — which are determined by local vaccination rates or declining case rates and positivity rates — are announced once a week. However Brown said on Tuesday that some counties can move into the lower risk category sooner if they achieve the vaccination goal of 65% of adults in the area receiving at least their first dose during the week.

One of those counties that may move into the low risk level this week is Polk County, where currently 64.2% of adults have been vaccinated.

During the weekend, Oregon's third most populous county was placed in the “lower risk” level after reaching the vaccination. Brown applauded Clackamas County Public Health workers' efforts to vaccinate 1,000 people who are unable to leave their homes and pharmacies that extended their hours.

As more counties are approved to ease restrictions, many continue to eye the statewide target — of 70% of adults in the state having received at least their first dose — which would allow many COVID-19 restrictions to be lifted.

Currently 68% of people, who are 18 or older, in the state had been vaccinated.

Once the state reaches 70%, county-based metrics will be dropped and health and safety guidance — including capacity limits — for businesses, venues and faith organizations will be lifted.

In addition, masks and face coverings would no longer be required in most settings, with some exceptions including airports, public transit and health care settings.

“We are incredibly close to achieving a 70% statewide adult vaccination rate, bringing us closer to returning to a sense of normalcy and lifting health and safety restrictions,” Brown said. “Vaccines are the best way for Oregonians to protect themselves, their families, and communities against COVID-19. Because so many Oregonians have stepped up to get vaccinated, Oregon’s case rates and hospitalizations have continued to decline.

Sara Cline is a corps member for The Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.