When Deschutes County moved out of the extreme risk category for spreading COVID-19, businesses began hiring, filling 7 out of every 10 jobs lost since the initial shutdowns, according to the Oregon Employment Department monthly data.

The unemployment rate in February fell again in Deschutes County to 6.8%, still higher than a year ago at the same time when it was 3.4%, according to the data released Tuesday morning.

Most of the job growth in Deschutes County was in the leisure and hospitality sectors, which added 780 jobs. In February, the county moved into the high risk category, which allowed 25% capacity for in-person dining. On March 12, the county moved into the moderate risk category, which allows for 50% capacity inside a restaurant.

Damon Runberg, Oregon Employment Department regional economist, predicted that the job gains are the sign the county is heading toward a full recovery and predicted that pent-up travel demand this summer will translate into a robust summer for Central Oregon’s leisure and hospitality industries.

“For the past four months we had seen flat job growth or job losses. These numbers show a return of recovery, which is necessary,” Runberg said. “The vaccine rollout is going well; we expect to see everyone who is eligible for a vaccine by May and there’s a high savings rate.

“It feels like people will start spending money again, and we as a local economy will be a direct beneficiary of that with travel and tourism.”

Crook County, however, held on to an 8% unemployment rate in February, which is nearly double the 4.8% it was at the same time last year, according to the data.

Jefferson County’s unemployment rate dropped to 6.9% in February, down from 7.1% in January, but far higher than it was in the same time the year before when it was 4.3%.