Oregon begins two-week freeze: Malheur County offers free COVID-19 testing

Posted at 3:24 PM, Nov 18, 2020
and last updated 2020-11-18 17:46:00-05

ONTARIO, Oregon — Oregon Governor Kate Brown initiated a statewide two-week freeze to slow the spread of the coronavirus beginning Wednesday.

The two-week shutdown limits gatherings to six people, reverts restaurants and bars to carry-out only, limits the capacity at grocery and retail stores to 75% with an emphasis on curbside pickup, and closes all gyms and recreational amenities.

"The situation is dangerous and our hospitals have been sounding the alarm," said Governor Brown in a press release. "I know this hard, and we are weary. But, we are trying to stop this ferocious virus from quickly spreading far and wide, and in Oregon, we can actually do this."

However, in Malheur County, which shares the border with Idaho, it also matters how Idaho reacts to COVID-19.

"I think Idaho has had one of the worst responses in the country," said Malheur County Health Department Director Sarah Poe. "I think that when we look back at the greatest public health crisis in a century, who was on the right side of history, who helped protect their neighbor, those are the people that can stand on their integrity and know that they've done the right thing, because this is absolutely a moral issue."

The Snake River separates Ontario, Oregon, and Payette, Idaho. The region is a shared community, which has mostly been a good thing until the pandemic came along.

Oregon, California and Washington have all issued a travel advisory asking people who come into their states to quarantine for 14 days, but that doesn't apply to the people on the border who need to go back and forth for work, school, and other essential activities.

Oregon has not reached 1,000 cases in a single day, but Idaho, which has 40 percent fewer people, has eclipsed 1,000 nearly every day for the last two weeks, including a new record of 1,781 confirmed and probable cases on Tuesday.

"That should scare every single person in this area," said Poe. "I do wish that the public would take individual responsibility, but without that, it really is the goal of public health to create safe, healthy environments for people to live in."

Malheur County is also providing free drive-in testing leading up to Thanksgiving. The county has been one of the hotspots in Oregon, in part, because they have the largest prison in the state.

"We have a variety of different tests coming to us from the Oregon Public Health Authority testing branch because we have had the highest test positivity rate in the state for a long time," said Poe.

Here are the places and times people can access those free tests.
All times are from 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.

  • Thursday, November 19 - Vale VFHC Clinic &789 Washington St W, Vale OR, 97918)
  • Friday, November 20 - Bi-Mart Ontario (2283 SW 4th Ave, Ontario, OR 97914)
  • Monday, November 23 - Bi-Mart Ontario (2283 SW 4th Ave, Ontario, OR 97914)

The Malheur County Health Department also told us they are planning more testing opportunities, and people don't need to have symptoms to get the free test.