While Central Oregon was in the moderate risk category for the transmission of COVID-19, the employment recovery was extraordinary, according to the March state employment report.

The job gains are so significant that all three counties in Central Oregon could come close to full job recovery by this summer, said Damon Runberg, Oregon Employment Department regional economist.

“I was shocked when I saw the numbers. It was a phenomenal month,” Runberg said. “When we’re seeing such massive gains like this, you have to remember that we’ll be that much closer to be fully recovered.

“At the pace of job recovery we see now, we’ll be fully recovered by June. I think it’s because of the combination of the nice weather and businesses can expand to legitimate outdoor dining. People are out.”

The seasonally adjusted unemployment rate in Deschutes County dropped to 6.6%, down from 6.8% in February, but higher than it was pre-pandemic shutdown in March 2020, when it was 3.3%, according to the employment report.

The county added 1,880 jobs since February, the largest gain since last summer when the county added 2,760 jobs in July, the report stated. Most of those jobs were in the leisure and hospitality industry, as many restaurants and bars opened for indoor dining when the county moved to the moderate risk level on March 12. It allows for 50% capacity indoors.

Deschutes County was moved back to high risk, which limits indoor dining to 25% capacity on April 9.

In Jefferson County, the seasonally adjusted unemployment rate dropped just slightly to 6.8% in March compared to 6.9% in February, but it was still higher than March of 2020 when it was 4.2%, according to the report.

Only 40 jobs were added to Jefferson County in March, a slower pace than neighboring counties, the report states. However, despite the slower pace of recovery, the county is the closest in Central Oregon to recovering all the jobs lost due to COVID-19 business shutdowns designed to contain the virus.

In Crook County, the seasonally adjusted unemployment rate dropped dramatically in March to 7.3% compared to 7.9% in February, but it was still higher than the same time the year before, the report states.

About 120 jobs were added in March, the second highest in the current recovery phase .