Brown orders 2-week “freeze” to reel in COVID spike; restaurants back to take-out only

By TED TAYLOR
CENTRAL OREGON DAILY NEWS

Hoping to reel in a massive spike in Oregon COVID cases, Gov. Kate Brown Friday announced a statewide two-week “freeze” that returns restaurants and bars to take-out only, closes gyms and sets a 25 person capacity for indoor church gatherings.

Additionally, the order closes indoor and outdoor recreational facilities and museums, limits grocery store capacity and limits get togethers to no more than six people from no more than two households.

The strict new measures go into effect on Wednesday and will run through Dec. 2nd.

Salons, barbershops, and schools that were already open are allowed to remain open under the same COVID regulations already in place.

”The dreaded winter surge is here,” Brown said in an afternoon press conference. “Whether we like it or not, we’re about to face what might be the roughest days of the pandemic.”

The Two-Week Freeze measures include:

  • Limiting social get-togethers (indoors and outdoors) to no more than six people, total, from no more than two households.
  • Limiting faith based organizations to a maximum of 25 people indoors or 50 people outdoors.
  • Limiting restaurants and bars to take-out only.
  • Closing gyms and fitness organizations.
  • Closing indoor recreational facilities, museums, indoor entertainment activities, and indoor pools and sports courts.
  • Closing outdoor recreational facilities, zoos, gardens, aquariums, outdoor entertainment activities, and outdoor pools.
  • Limiting grocery stores and pharmacies to a maximum of 75% capacity and encouraging curbside pick-up.
  • Limiting retail stores and retail malls (indoor and outdoor) to a maximum of 75% capacity and encouraging curbside pick-up.
  • Closing venues (that host or facilitate indoor or outdoor events).
  • Requiring all businesses to mandate work-from-home to the greatest extent possible and closing offices to the public.
  • Prohibiting indoor visiting in long-term care facilities.

Brown said the restrictions will remain in place for longer than two weeks in places with continued high case counts.

“So I want to be very clear that there are some COVID-19 hotspot counties that will likely need to stay in the freeze for much longer than two weeks. Multnomah County, for example, will be in this freeze for at least four weeks,” she said. “Our actions right now, no matter where in the state you live, are critical.”

The state group representing many small businesses say Brown’s order could have devastating impacts.

“It simply doesn’t make any sense to impose further restrictions on businesses that provide safer, regulated spaces for Oregonians to engage in economic and social activities in masked and socially distanced atmospheres,” said Anthony Smith, Oregon state director for the National Federation of Independent Business.  “This approach will only prompt more Oregonians to seek out the same informal social gatherings that are driving the recent spread of the virus.”

Smith said nearly “40% of small businesses that are looking at a permanent closure within the year. If economic conditions worsen, the timeline will likely shorten.”

Soon after the announcement, the City of Bend’s business advocate issued a statement with resources for local businesses expected to be hit hard by the new restrictions.

“I know this news hits like a punch to the gut. We’re entering a new period of uncertainty with one key difference, we’ve been here once before,” Ben Hemson said.”Expect updates from me as we work with our state and federal counterparts to identify the next round of business and employee assistance programs that are urgently needed.”

The Oregon Department of Employment said it was preparing for a surge in unemployment claims.

“While the Two-Week Freeze may not directly affect all businesses, we want Oregonians to know that we are in a much better place than we were at the start of the pandemic to respond to an uptick in unemployment claims,” said acting director David Gerstenfeld. “We are ready to take your claims and ensure you get your benefits as quickly as possible, whether through an existing benefit program or any new federal program that may get passed,”

If you returned to work and your employment is impacted by the freeze, you’ll need to restart a claim.

Earlier this week, Brown warned the spike would soon lead to overwhelmed hospitals and implored Oregonians to stay vigilant with wearing masks and limiting social interactions.

On Wednesday, nine Oregon counties with high COVID numbers were put on a two-week pause that limited restaurant capacity among other restrictions.

But Oregon reported a record 1,122 new COVID cases on Thursday, shattering the previous single-day case count record, forcing the governor to follow through on the renewed restrictions she warned of weeks ago.

On Friday, the state reported another 1,076 COVID cases and seven deaths.

Becky Hultberg, President and CEO of the Oregon Association of Hospitals and Health Systems, applauded the move.

“We know it’s hard, eight months into the pandemic, to limit where we go and how we interact with friends and family,” she said. “But these steps – combined with social distancing, hand washing, and face coverings when you must leave your home – are essential steps to reduce the spread of COVID-19 and bring it under control so we can bring normalcy back into our lives.”

Also on Friday, Brown joined California and Washington’s governors in urging residents to avoid non-essential out-of-state-travel and to self-quarantine for 14 days after arriving from another state or country.

The group encouraged residents to stay local.

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