Local county commissioners join group urging Brown to reverse restrictions

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Central Oregon county commissioners joined dozens of their colleagues across the state Tuesday urging Gov. Kate Brown to reverse the restrictions on restaurants and bars coming later this week with the return to Extreme Risk.

The letter, penned by the Association of Oregon Counties, Oregon Restaurant & Lodging Association and signed by nearly 80 county leaders, says the industry is being unfairly singled out and “we have reached our turning point.”

“You must know restrictions on specific types of businesses compared to others within our local communities is creating rifts and dividing people rather than bringing Oregonians together,” the letter says. “We can flip the script by removing state-mandated business restrictions on our communities while empowering our county health departments to uphold high expectations for ongoing health and safety measures as recommended by the CDC.”

COVID cases across the state have been steadily climbing for the last month.

On Wednesday the OHA reported 5,729 new daily cases during the week of Monday, April 19 through Sunday, April 27.

That represents a 21% increase from the previous week and marks the fifth consecutive week of 20% or higher increases in daily cases.

Deschutes County last week reported more than 500 cases, the most in a single week since the pandemic began.

Crook County reported 66 cases last week, just shy of a record week dating back to last year.

Both counties, and 13 others across Oregon, have been ordered to return to Extreme Risk on Friday, which closes restaurants and bars to indoor dining among other restrictions.

Restaurants are allowed to offer take-out and outdoor dining. Brown on Tuesday doubled outdoor dining capacities for restaurants hoping it could help them weather the temporary setback.

In the letter, the group said it realizes cases are climbing and understands the importance of hospital capacities.

But it points out there have been no instances of super spreader events tied to the restaurant and hospitality industry.

“Shutting down our restaurants and further depriving Oregonians of their right to make calculated community engagement risks when the virus continues to spread elsewhere will not result in success,” it said.

Commissioner Phil Chang, the only Democrat on the three-member Deschutes County Commission, was the only one who did not sign the letter.

He said he feels sympathy for the industry because he knows it’s not the main culprit for the spike.

“It’s not fair, but at the same time restaurants are a potential place where COVID can spread,” he said, citing that it’s a place where people from different houses gather together indoors without masks.

“We desperately need to shut down COVID in our community,” he said. “We need to ask everyone to do their part.”

In a separate statement Tuesday following the governor’s announcement, ORLA’s leader said the state’s restaurants were taking all the necessary precautions to keep their employees and customers safe.

“It is impossible to run a restaurant two weeks at a time let alone one week at a time which is now Governor Brown’s plan for the coming weeks,” said Jason Brandt, president and CEO of ORLA. “The move by the Governor’s Office is tone deaf and offensive to tens of thousands of Oregonians working in restaurants and bars across our state attempting to pay their bills.”

Meanwhile, in Prineville on Mayor Jason Beebe reposted a resolution city councilors passed in January that would give businesses a chance to fight Oregon-OSHA fines if they choose to ignore the restrictions and remain open.

The resolution is in the hands of a Circuit Court judge now.

“I do not have the power to tell them they must open and I personally dont [sic] want that power,” he wrote on his Facebook page. “I do want them to thrive and be successful though, and believe that no one should be able to shut them down over a virus.”

Several Central Oregon businesses have been fined by Oregon-OSHA for violating COVID restrictions.

Few have actually paid any of those fines yet.

Local restaurants we talked with on Tuesday were angered and disappointed in the news but said they planned to power through.

You can read the full letter below:

2021 04 27 AOC_ORLA-Letter to Governor Kate Brown

 

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