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The long-awaited day of reopening businesses and personal activity in Deschutes County has arrived. At 9:23pm last night, Gov. Kate Brown approved our county’s request — along with 27 other counties around the state — to begin Phase 1 reopening plans following the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions that have been in effect since March 23. The reopening will commence tomorrow (Friday, May 15), and state and local officials have conducted meetings today to make public the details on how it will all work.
In a letter to Deschutes County Board of Commissioners Chair Patti Adair, Gov. Brown praised the efforts made by the Board to meet the requirements needed to demonstrate the county’s readiness to begin to lift the restrictions imposed during the COVID-19 pandemic. “I am pleased to inform you that your county’s application to enter Phase 1 on May 15 has been approved,” Gov. Brown said in the letter.
In an online press briefing today, Gov. Brown, Director of Oregon Health Authority Patrick Allen and State Epidemiologist Dean Sidelinger discussed what Phase 1 reopening looks like, and what needs to happen to keep Oregon open. Under Phase 1, gatherings of up to 25 people are now allowed as long as social distancing is practiced; restaurants and bars can open for sit-down service as long as certain criteria are met; and personal service providers such as hairstylists and massage therapists can resume practice as long as they carefully screen clients prior to the service. Requirements for the reopening of gyms was also released following the press briefing.
Summer youth programs will be allowed to take place on a limited basis, Gov. Brown said, with plans being developed to open schools across the state in the fall. “Education is the game changer across the state,” she said. “The challenge is that it might look a little different than we are used to, but we must make it a priority. My heart goes out to the Class of 2020.” Sidelinger said, “We are so lucky that children are relatively spared from this in large part. Guidelines will be put in place for the schools, but it won’t look like last fall.” Gov. Brown added, “I would hope for the entire state to be able to open the schools, but we will have to be nimble and flexible, and be sensitive to outbreaks during the year. The disease controls the timing, we don’t control the timing.”
When asked about enforcement of the guidelines set forth under Phase 1 reopening, Gov. Brown said that while programs are in place to monitor each county on a weekly basis, she strongly emphasized the importance of personal responsibility. “We must remain vigilant,” she said. “We are venturing out onto thin ice, and everyone, everyone across the state should continue to wear face masks and practice social distancing. Wearing a face covering sends the strong message that you care. If the ice is not solid, we will move back.” She added, “We will not be able to go back to life as we knew it. We know and expect that there may be an uptick in the virus with this. If we can’t beat back the virus, we will have to restrict again. It’s all up to us. If you feel uncomfortable that someone is too close, say something.”
For those businesses and individuals who refuse to adhere to wearing face masks, social distancing and following other protocols, Gov. Brown said, “We are taking action. There are a few businesses that are outliers. We know that. But agencies do have the authority to impose fines. If people are putting individuals at risk, we will work with them. I want to remind all Oregonians that most retail businesses were never required to close, but many did. We thank you for that.”
Sidelinger said that in order to effectively monitor the counties in Phase 1, a system is in place in which local health authorities in each county are working in partnership with state authorities to create reports and identify trends. “We are working together in the same database,” he said. “We are all in this together, all Oregonians. The data comes from a variety of sources across the state. That multiplicity of sources helps us stay on track.”
Local Deschutes County authorities reiterated the importance of individuals doing their part during a press conference with the Deschutes County Board of Commissioners this afternoon. “The risk remains the same. Without a vaccine, it’s critical we all do our part,” said Morgan Emmerson, program and communications coordinator at Deschutes County Health Services. “Even if you aren’t in a high-risk category, your actions could pose a threat.”
During the press conference, Commissioner Phil Henderson said that while Deschutes County allows overnight rentals, “We are not currently encouraging travel from outside areas. But we need to move toward that. Tourism is part of our economy. Business owners must set the example and show people what they are doing to meet the guidelines.” He added, “As big events get cancelled, it’s like it takes away a piece of us. But the way we can get through this is to try new things. We can work through this if we keep moving forward.”
In discussing how the decision was made to begin reopening the state, Dr. Allen said the increase in the ability to test and in the amount of supplies now available, as well as the implementation of “contact tracers” who will work to isolate the source of the virus in each county, were key factors. “If you get sick, tell the tracers, and isolate yourself for 14 days,” he said. “Testing, tracing and isolating are the only tools we have to stay safe until there is a vaccine. Our personal actions every day will either spread it or slow it. Moving on to Phase 2 depends upon all of us taking care of each other.” Gov. Brown added, “Wearing masks helps the hairstylists and others who are helping you return to some normalcy.”
If a county sees a surge in cases or cannot identify the source of new cases, has an increase in hospitalizations or emergency room visits due to the virus, it’s possible that the stay-at-home restrictions will be re-enforced. “COVID-19 isn’t going away anytime soon,” said Allen. We need to continue to work together in order to stay strong.”
In the letter to Adair, Gov. Brown said that her goals for a safe and strong Oregon are as follows:
- Minimize hospitalizations and deaths;
- Allow people to return to work so they can support themselves and their families;
- Minimize risk to frontline workers;
- Avoid overwhelming the health care system;
- Protect those at highest risk of severe illness, especially the elderly, those with underlying health conditions and communities of color; and
- Support social/cultural/spiritual reopening for small groups that preserve community cohesion and cultural practices.
Under the Phase 1 directives, details about what businesses can and cannot do are available in the website created by Gov. Brown’s office that offers COVID-19 information and resources for Oregonians (coronavirus.oregon.gov). The website outlines specifics about how restaurants and bars can operate, details about how personal service providers are to conduct business and how shopping centers and malls should function. The website also offers guidance for employers, retail stores and childcare facilities, as well as links to multiple other resources. For specific information about businesses in Deschutes County, visit the Board of Commissioners website at deschutes.org/bcc.
To further clarify what Phase 1 looks like, Gov. Brown said that a new executive order will be issued soon, in which the requirements will be made very clear. “I think we have the opportunity to build a safe and strong Oregon,” she said. “We have flattened the curve.”
“My job is to make hard decisions, even when they are unpopular. The buck stops right here,” said Gov. Brown. “I know there are those who think the remaining restrictions are too much, and there are those who think we are moving too fast. I’m not here to make everyone happy. I’m focused on the health and safety of Oregonians.”