City, health officials await potential COVID spike following holiday

By TED TAYLOR
CENTRAL OREGON DAILY NEWS

While most of the state navigates Phase I of the governor’s reopening plan, Central Oregon is entering a crucial phase of its own as officials anxiously await a potential COVID case spike following the busy holiday weekend.

“Next week will be very interesting,” Bend Mayor Sally Russell said Thursday during her weekly joint conference call. “We’re going to have a lot more information than we have right now.”

Russell was joined on the call by Bend City Manager Eric King, Redmond City Manager Keith Witcosky, Redmond Mayor George Endicott, Deschutes County Commissioner Tony DeBone and Deschutes County Health Services Director Dr. George A. Conway.

While Gov. Kate Brown and many mayors across the state implored Oregonians to stay close to home over the holiday weekend, it appeared many didn’t listen.

Russell said initially lodging occupancy rates over the weekend were about 40 to 50% – significantly down from a typical Memorial Day weekend – but also significantly higher than previously this spring as people stayed home.

Deschutes County has reported 120 cases of the coronavirus and 95 of those patients have recovered. Last week there was a short spike in cases – more than 20 new cases over a three-day span.

But those cases were tied to local family gatherings, not the reopening of restaurants, bars, and stores.

Conway said if there was a spike from the busy weekend, the region would see the brunt of by the middle or latter part of next week.

“It was concerning we had a spike, but it’ll be more concerning if we see a spike next week,” Conway said. “We do have currently adequate capacity to keep up with contact tracing, but if we start seeing a major spike in cases, it will require us to think about what’s going on and what we need to do.”

Many restaurants and bars were shoulder to shoulder over the weekend, point to what the Russell said was a “huge breadth of understanding and misunderstanding of what Phase I really means.”

DeBone said it was important for locals and visitors alike to be “a respectful customer, be a respectful community member.”

“There’s a lot of emotions riding high here,” he said. “People are perceiving this differently. Some people want to push against it, other people want other people to just stay home and stay safe. We’re all in this together and really just getting that being respectful community members through to society right now.”

Endicott said he knows of at least one local business that “got a little out of control” on the first weekend of Phase I, but the city responded with some education.

He said police went by the business, reminded them of the rules, and the business owner immediately adjusted the behavior.

King said the city has been tracking calls from people reporting businesses they believe aren’t following the rules. He said they received about 100 calls over the last week.

He said the Chamber of Commerce and the city continued working with businesses in educating them about the need for social distancing and wearing masks.

Witcosky said business owners can only do so much.

“Ultimately it’s the consumer that has to make the choice,” he said. “If they want to go to an establishment where people are shoulder to shoulder, that’s their choice.”

Russel and King said the City of Bend is working on letting downtown businesses expand their footprint outside to allow for more, safe seating arrangements.

Businesses this week submitted proposals and King said he’ll present some of those at next week’s council meeting.

“There’s so much work going on at all levels,” Russell said.

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