Crook, Deschutes counties sent back to ‘Extreme Risk’; tighter restrictions begin Friday

Starting Friday Deschutes and Crook county restaurants must return to take-out only, gym capacity is capped at six people and church capacity is cut to 25% in an effort to slow a month-long COVID spike across the region and state.

Gov. Kate Brown made the announcement Tuesday, ordering 15 Oregon counties back to “Extreme Risk” and the restrictions that come with that label.

“If we don’t act now, doctors, nurses, hospitals, and other health care providers in Oregon will be stretched to their limits treating severe cases of COVID-19,” Brown said in a statement. “Today’s announcement will save lives and help stop COVID-19 hospitalizations from spiking even higher. With new COVID-19 variants widespread in so many of our communities, it will take all of us working together to bring this back under control.”

Hoping to help businesses, Brown said she will work with lawmakers to approve a $20 million small business emergency relief package to immediately support impacted businesses in Extreme Risk counties through the commercial rent relief program.

She also announced the outdoor capacity for bars, restaurants, and other businesses would be raised from 50 to 100 people in Extreme Risk counties.

In an effort to speed up the return to normal business operations, Brown said county COVID-19 data will be evaluated weekly for at least the next three weeks.

Updates to the county risk levels will be announced next on Tuesday, May 4, and take effect on Friday, May 7.

Locally, COVID cases have been climbing for more than a month.

Last week, Deschutes County reported 506 cases – the most in a single week since the pandemic began.

As of Monday, Deschutes County reported 1,664 active cases – that’s one in 118 residents; 73 county residents have died from COVID complications.

St. Charles on Tuesday reported it had 28 COVID patients; six are in the ICU and two are on ventilators. The hospital is at 92% capacity, officials said.

On Monday Oregon reported 319 hospitalizations.

According to the statement from the governor’s office, counties move to Extreme Risk when they meet the county metrics for case rates and percent positivity, and Oregon meets statewide hospitalization metrics – COVID-19 positive patients occupying 300 hospital beds or more, and a 15% increase in the seven-day hospitalization average over the past week.

Counties will stay in Extreme Risk for a maximum of three weeks and will be able to move to a lower risk level sooner if their COVID-19 case rates are brought down in the intervening weeks, or if Oregon moves below 300 statewide hospitalizations or the seven-day hospitalization average percent increase goes below 15 percent, Brown said.

Local school districts say the return to Extreme Risk won’t have an impact on students who back to full time, in-person instruction.

But it could put an end to plans for in-person graduation ceremonies.

Bend-La Pine Schools said earlier this month it would make a final announcement the week of May 17th, depending on where Deschutes County was at with cases.

If the county remains in the Extreme category, all schools will celebrate with individual graduate ‘diploma walks’, inside, as schools did last year.

The news continues a frustrating yo-yo for many local businesses that have been dealing with COVID restrictions for more than a year.

Deschutes County started in the Extreme Risk category when the governor and OHA announced the new framework back in November.

In February, cases started to drop and the county was allowed to move into High Risk category. That allowed restaurants to offer indoor dining for the first time in months.

Restrictions eased further in early March when the county moved to Moderate Risk.

Several local businesses ignored the Extreme Risk restrictions and offered indoor dining earlier this year, but they paid the price with hefty fines from Oregon-OSHA.

OR-OSHA fines Black Bear Diner in Bend, Redmond $17K each for COVID violations

And since then – and despite a growing number of people vaccinated – COVID cases have shot up.

Health officials say more than 99% of the new cases are in unvaccinated individuals and many of the cases are from young adults who tracers learned were ignoring mask and social distancing guidelines.

Since March, cases have also tripled in patients 19 and younger, according to Deschutes County Health.

“The fastest way to lift health and safety restrictions is for Oregonians to get vaccinated as quickly as possible and follow the safety measures we know stop this virus from spreading,” Brown said. “I recognize the burden these restrictions place on Oregon businesses and working families. My goal is to lift these restrictions as soon as it is safely possible and keep Oregon on the path for lifting most health and safety requirements by the end of June so we can fully reopen our economy.”

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