By BROOKE SNAVELY
CENTRAL OREGON DAILY NEWS
Visitors have returned to Central Oregon and many are taking tours with local outfitters.
But, whitewater rafting, guided mountain bike tours and shuttle services all have COVID safety protocols in place.
Whitewater rafters are wearing masks even though they are outdoors.
Sun Country tours requires guests to wear face coverings throughout their trip except when rafting through the larger rapids.
Most guests are too busy paddling or holding on for dear life to think about taking them off.
“This is actually working out better than we expected. We have some pretty dialed COVID protocols in place,” said Kirin Stryker, owner of Cogwild Mountain Bike Tours.
“Heavy sanitizing in the vans between each of the shuttle runs. We are running the vans at reduced capacity. Our 15 passenger vans are running at nine people; our 25 passenger mini bus we are running at 13 people with as much ventilation as we can. Of course on sunny days that works better than on rainy days. Everybody in the van is wearing a mask covering their nose and their mouth and it has to stay on for the duration of the ride.”
Participants in Cogwild Mountain Bike Tours are not required to wear a mask while riding on the trails but they must share their contact information for COVID tracing purposes.
“No staff or guests have gotten sick so far,” Stryker said. “We are required to keep records for contact tracing and we haven’t been contacted for any of that yet. We are almost six weeks into operation. I don’t think these protocols are going anywhere. We are going to be staying with them at least through the end of this summer. Even if we go down to Phase 1 we’ll still be able to operate at the level we are operating.”
Outdoor recreation tour operators are required to sanitize all their equipment between each trip.
In the case of whitewater tour operators that include rafts, paddles, and life jackets.
Outfitters that provide shuttle service also disinfect vans and buses between each trip.
“Now that masks are expected across the state, it’s even easier to comply with,” Stryker said.
The outfitters we spoke with said there’s plenty of demand for service, but social distancing requirements limit operations to 50% of capacity.
How long outfitters and guides can remain in business at reduced capacity is a question that may not be answered until after the summer tourist season.