By TED TAYLOR
CENTRAL OREGON DAILY NEWS
Beginning Friday, some Oregonians will be able to see a movie, go for a swim and attend church services in person if their county is approved to move into Phase 2 of the governor’s plan to reopen the state.
And later this month, Oregon’s collegiate athletes can return to training in anticipation of a fall sports season.
Gov. Kate Brown on Wednesday finalized plans for a move to Phase 2 during a news conference with Oregon Health Authority Director Patrick Allen and Dr. Dean Sidelinger.
It relaxes even more restrictions imposed by the her stay-home order handed down in May, but Sidelinger said Oregonians shouldn’t get too excited about a full return to normal anytime soon.
“Phase 2 will be where we live for the next several months,” Sidelinger said, adding later that there is still no concrete plan for school children returning to the classroom this fall.
For now, Oregon businesses will reap the benefits of a move to Phase 2, thanks to a decline in positive cases and hospitalizations across the state. Meanwhile, counties are increasing their ability to contact trace cases should they arise.
As of Wednesday, the OHA has reported 159 deaths and nearly 4,300 in the state have tested positive for the disease.
Brown said 31 Oregon counties were allowed to submit Phase 2 applications this week.
Commissioners from Deschutes, Crook and Jefferson are among 20 counties that have already submitted letters to the governor and they could learn the answer as soon as Thursday.
Phase 2 allows for gatherings of up to 50 people indoors and 100 people outdoors; a limited return to work, the limited opening of movie theaters, bowling alleys and swimming pools. Zoos, museums and public outdoor gardens also have new guidelines released Wednesday, which paves the way for their reopening assuming they meet the criteria.
“We are preparing to reopen in the next several weeks but haven’t yet fixed upon a firm date,” said High Desert Museum Executive Director Dana Whitelaw. “We want to make sure we have the time to review the parameters Gov. Brown and the Oregon Health Authority revealed today and to check in with the Deschutes County Health Department to make sure we’re meeting them.”
Churches would also be allowed to reopen if they’re able to meet the Phase 2 social distancing and group-size restrictions.
Restaurants would be allowed to extend curfews to midnight and increase their footprints for table space with approved outdoor space.
Face coverings are 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.
Those recommendations will remain part of Phase 2.
“Any reopening comes with risk. That’s just a fact of life right now. So we need to reduce the risk that comes with reopening,” Brown said. “So, fellow Oregonians, you have another chance to shine. A chance to show that you are looking out for your friends, family, and neighbors.”
As of Wednesday, Deschutes County had reported just 19 active cases of COVID-19. Of the 128 total cases in the county, 109 have recovered.
Crook County reported six total cases and Jefferson County reported 45 – but most of those cases are from the Warm Springs Indian Reservation.
Earlier this week, Deschutes County Public Health Spokeswoman Morgan Emerson told commissioners the county meets the state’s guidelines for advancement, including training up more contact tracers and tracking new cases quickly.
“We’re meeting this at 100%,” Emerson said. “And we have 12 DCHS staff members that are trained to be able to do contact tracing as well as the three additional hires.”
OHA Director Allen said the data is showing Oregonians answered the call to flatten the curve of the virus.
He said the state has the fourth-lowest infection rate in the country right now, adding that hospitalizations have gone down from 161 two weeks ago to 102 this morning – all while testing has increased across the state.
Health officials will look to see the cases continue to decline as they prepare a plan to return the state’s education system back to normal this fall.
Sidelinger said they are working closely with the Oregon Department of Education on those plans, which could call for staggered schedules, the need for additional classroom spaces on campuses and increased sanitation measures.
Oregon Higher Education Coordinating Commission is also working on guidelines for the state’s colleges and universities.
This is a developing story.