By TED TAYLOR
CENTRAL OREGON DAILY NEWS
Deschutes, Crook and Jefferson counties can begin Phase I of reopening their economies Friday, but officials are tempering excitement with a reminder communities must stay vigilant in the fight against COVID.
Kathryn DeBone, wife of Deschutes County Commissioner Tony DeBone, posted an approval letter from the governor on her Facebook page early Thursday morning. Commissioner DeBone later confirmed it.
The letters were sent out Wednesday night, ahead of Gov. Kate Brown’s Thursday morning news conference to formally announce which counties had been approved to move forward.
All but three of Oregon’s 36 counties applied for reopening; Brown announced 28 counties were approved.
Jefferson County was not initially part of the governor’s approved list, but later Thursday county officials got word Phase I could begin there on Friday as well.
“In each of these counties, we will continue to monitor testing rates, effectiveness of contact tracing and isolation of the case, hospitalization rates and other metrics that are required to remain open during phase one,” Brown said.
The governor applauded the work of the counties in flattening the curve of the coronavirus that’s sickened more than 3,400 Oregonians and killed 137.
“I want to be clear that reopening does not come without risks,” she wrote. “With every restriction lifted, we know transmission of the virus has the potential to increase.”
Brown said the OHA would be closely monitoring the spread of COVID throughout the state and will be ready to work with officials if any concerns arise.
“The prerequisites that we laid out were an excellent roadmap for counties to be prepared for future challenges. We are all much better prepared now than we were before going through this exercise,” she said in her news conference. “Reviewing these applications reinforced the fact that these were the right requirements, and that we must remain vigilant in the coming weeks.”
“I am not here to make everyone happy. I’m focused on protecting the health and safety of Oregonians.”
– Gov. Kate Brown
Restaurants, bars, brewpubs, distilleries, salons, furniture stores, gyms and some other retail stores are part of that Phase I reopening plan assuming they can meet social distancing guidelines and new OHSA rules for reopening.
Face coverings will be required for all employees at restaurants, pubs and breweries, grocery stores, pharmacies, salons, and more. Those businesses are also strongly recommended to require face maks for all customers.
Gyms can reopen on a limited basis as long as they can maintain social distancing between gym users, close showers and pools and have strong cleaning protocols in place.
Salons and barbershops have to be run by appointment only and proprietors will need to ask a series of health-related questions before making the appointment. They’ll have to record their client lists, get rid of magazines and ditch the free beer pours as well.
Additionally, gatherings need to remain smaller than 25 people.
In her news conference, Brown said she knew the phased-in approach wasn’t sitting well with everyone and understood the frustrations some might feel with the continued restrictions that would limit businesses from returning to normal.
“Now let me be clear: Some people will hear these rules and see the list of counties entering Phase One and say we are still being too restrictive. Others will hear the exact same information and say we are moving too quickly to reopen the economy,” she said. “I’ve been in this job long enough to know I’m not here to make everyone happy…I am focused on protecting the health and safety of Oregonians, while understanding that job losses have a negative impact on public health — both physical and emotional health.”
Patrick Allen, director of the Oregon Health Authority, said “reopening is a team sport.”
“It’s not going work if some people follow the rules and others don’t,” he said during Thursday’s news conference. “We need everyone on the team to do their part.”
Deschutes County has had 91 confirmed cases since early February and 74 of those patients have recovered, according to health officials. Crook County has just one case while Jefferson County has had 24. There have been no local deaths.
Bend Mayor Sally Russell said the approval was an exciting moment for everyone in the area, but the community needed to understand it’s only Phase I.
“I really, really, really want us to understand this opening is tenuous and if cases do spike in our region and we start to overwhelm the medical system, we will have to close down these businesses again and no one – repeat no one – wants to be there,” she said.
Russell said she was “really nervous” about the immediate future if locals let their guard down.
“We saw a lot of people in the community over the weekend who were not wearing masks and crowding each other,” she said. “And I’m worried in 10 days we’re going to see a spike of cases.”
Local businesses and agencies were quick to announce plans to reopen.
Mt. Bachelor announced it would reopen to passholders on Saturday, with several new restrictions in place such as required reservations and no food or beverage service on the mountain.
And the Deschutes Public Library said it would start phasing in a reopening, beginning with letting people return overdue books on May 26th and letting folks pick up books on hold June 2nd.
Local restaurants have been busy preparing for the planned reopening, altering dining room layouts to adhere to social distancing rules, creating new disposable or laminated menus that can be sanitized and hiring back staff that had been laid off when Brown initiated the stay-home order March 23rd.
Many restaurants that closed their dining rooms remained open for take-out and delivery services, but Brown’s announcement Thursday opens the door, literally, to others who thrived on in-person visits.
Deschutes Brewery, for example, one of Bend’s most popular restaurants and pubs, closed following Brown’s initial order. They now plan to reopen, with limited capacity, on June 1st.
Sadly though, the stay-home order also meant the permanent demise for some Central Oregon favorites that couldn’t survive the extended closure.
Russell said city officials, the Bend Chamber of Commerce and local business owners have been working 24/7 on reopening plans.
“A lot of background work has been done,” she said, on some new and innovative ways to help local businesses get back on their feet.
Redmond Mayor George Endicott said similar efforts were happening there.
“We are focused on making sure people are informed on how to be good neighbors, good customers, and business proprietors as we enter this new phase,” said Redmond Mayor George Endicott. “City staff is reaching out directly to all licensed businesses in Redmond to ensure they have access to the most current guidelines on how to operate safely and responsibly.”
Locals excited about the idea of a return to something close to normal now wait and hope Oregonians heed the call of the governor to limit travel.
“Now is not the time to travel to Bend.” – Visit Bend
Brown reopened some state parks last week and planned to open more in the coming days. Smith Rock State Park reopened on Thursday after a lengthy closure.
And Deschutes County’s temporary ban on short-term lodging expires on May 15th, opening the doors to resorts like Tetherow, Sunriver, Pronghorn and Black Butte Ranch.
A jump in tourists could lead to a spike in local cases.
Visit Bend on Thursday morning sent out an email to more than 7,000 subscribers saying locals and “businesses face a lot of new challenges and hurdles but we are excited to see things moving in the right direction.”
“However, now is not the time to travel to Bend,” the email reads. “Governor Brown’s stay home order which restricts non-essential, recreational travel is still in effect, as is the city of Bend’s lodging order which restricts lodging to essential travelers only.”
Brown reiterated that.
“We’re asking Oregonians to be thoughtful of their neighbors,” she said.
During an afternoon news conference to discuss the reopening plan, Deschutes County commissioners discussed the end of the county’s short-term lodging ban.
“We are not trying to encourage travel from other parts of the area, currently,” said Commissioner Phil Henderson. “But we do need to have travel and tourism, so that’s going to be a coming thing, and we’re very supportive of that, as it can grow.”
On Wednesday, Deschutes County said it had hired four new contact tracers bringing its total to six – still well below the state’s prerequisite of 30 for the county’s nearly 200,000 residents.
Allen said the OHA looked at the number of cases in the county over the last seven days, 11, and how they were able to meet the threshold of contact tracing those cases within 24 hours.
He said if the counties were doing that – rather than force counties to hire a bunch of people who wouldn’t have a lot of work to do now – the counties needed a solid plan to ramp up the hiring quickly, which Deschutes County has, he said.
Counties must remain in Phase I for at least 21 days before entering Phase II, which would expand gathering size, allow more office work and begin to allow visitation to congregate care facilities.
You can read the full letter sent to Jefferson County below.Letter to Jefferson County approval phase one 20.05.14