Benton County looks to TRACE-COVID-19 results to guide reopening decisions, prepares small business support

The Corvallis City Hall building is located downtown on Madison Avenue. OMN archive taken Feb. 2020. 

Taryn Hugo, News Contributor

With Oregon State University, as well as many Benton County establishments, currently closed to the public due to COVID-19, city leaders are looking to the TRACE-COVID-19 study for guidance on how and when to reopen, while preparing to support the financial needs of affected small businesses.

Many issues are currently being addressed regarding economic recovery for Benton County, however, the main issue is still first and foremost the safety of civilians, said City of Corvallis Public Information Officer Patrick Rollens.

“The really important thing people need to remember about the reopening is that social distancing and the wearing of masks are still a must,” Rollens said. “It’s important for people to remain cautious and mindful.”

According to Rollens, by May 15, Benton County leadership will hand over plans to the state for evaluation regarding how county officials plan to proceed with reopening and the state will decide whether the plan is feasible.

“The reopening plan is really focused on all Oregon counties individually. Each county is required to come up with their own complex plan on how to safely reopen,” Rollens said. 

Hoping that everything goes accordingly, Rollens said the state’s evaluation of the plan should take no more than a week and if accepted, reopening should begin soon after. 

However, Rollens said the plans to reopen can be influenced either positively or negatively by the TRACE-COVID-19 study currently being conducted by Oregon State University researchers, including Dean of the College of Science Roy Haggerty, which is currently measuring the prevalence of the novel coronavirus within the Corvallis community.

“We are sending teams into representative neighborhoods in Corvallis,” Haggerty said. “Our teams go door to door and ask everyone who is willing to participate to take nasal swabs of themselves, which we then retrieve and take back to the lab.”

Haggerty said he was approached by the United States government to do such research because OSU has access to a number of PCR machines which are capable of detecting the viral RNA strain associated with COVID-19. 

“We begin by taking a sample from someone in the community through a nasal swab and then process it to detect the viral RNA,” Haggerty said. 

Through such research, Haggerty and his team can determine how prevalent the virus is within the community. 

“These people can isolate themselves, but to estimate how much the virus is increasing or decreasing which is significant to the re-opening of Corvallis business as well as the university,” Haggerty said. 

However, Rollens said even if the county gets an “OK” for the reopening — the number of people Corvallis testing positive for the virus is deemed to be low enough, and the plan to keep Benton County safe from exposure is accepted — it is completely up to individual business to reopen. 

“The reopening doesn’t actually require businesses to reopen,” Rollens said. “In the end, it is ultimately up to the business.”

Rollens said the county will not force businesses to reopen considering the fact that many businesses still have little resources to have their doors open to the public.

“A lot of businesses might have laid off some of their employees who have found other jobs or are currently on unemployment, so they may not have the means to reopen just yet,” Rollens said. 

Because of this issue, Rollens said there will be small business loans, worth $5,000-$10,000 per business, available to applicants until May 15. County officials will then use a lottery system to determine who will have access to such funding, which will later be distributed on May 22. 

Such funds, $250,000 in total — $100,000 coming from the county and $150,000 Community Leading Works — are being offered to small businesses hurt by the current such down. However, Rollens said there is not enough money for all establishments and even if the reopening is accepted, things may proceed, yet slowly. 

“As much as we would like to move quickly, unfortunately, this process is not going to be quick,” Rollens said.

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