eschutes County Commissioner Patti Adair heard the news from the State Wednesday night at 9:23 p.m.: The county’s application to move into Phase One of reopening was accepted.
That means starting Friday—after nearly seven weeks of forced or recommended closure due to the spread of COVID-19—some local businesses will open their doors. Restaurants, salons and gyms can welcome customers with a host of distancing restrictions and sanitization protocols.
Social gatherings of 25 people or fewer are also OK, but large events are still off the table until September unless these events can be restructured with smaller crowds. Gyms now have capacity limits, vigilant sanitization and need to collect client contact information for contact tracing. Showers and pools are closed for now.
- Gov. Brown said Friday that Oregonians should continue to wear masks when they are out of their homes, and continue to stay 6 feet away from people not in their own household.
Brown announced Thursday that 28 out of 36 of the state’s counties were approved. State officials denied the applications of Marion and Polk counties due to an increase of cases in the Salem area. Three more counties—Umatilla, Morrow and Jefferson—were still under review Thursday morning, but Jefferson made the cut Thursday afternoon.
The state and the county released a glut of information over the past few days detailing the new regulations under Phase One. City and county leaders recommend first digesting the State’s guidelines at coronavirus.oregon.com. Then business owners should move on to the long lists of local resources and contact city and county government employees. They are standing by to help get businesses back off the ground, said County Commissioner Phil Henderson.
Contact tracingThe new normal requires a vigilant team of Deschutes County contact tracers to begin quarantines within 24 hours of contact with an infected person. Barring an expansive testing program open to everyone, one of Oregon’s best tools for containing the virus is isolating active cases, according to Dr. Pat Allen, the Oregon Health Authority Director, who joined the governor at Thursday’s press conference.
So why was Deschutes county approved by the state if it only has six contact tracers, when the state requires 15 tracers per 100,000 people in a county?
“We looked at [the county’s ability to] contact cases within 24 hours, 95% of the time,” Allen said. “If they were doing that, rather than require them to basically hire people that wouldn’t have a lot to do right now, we wanted to know they had a solid plan to ramp up that capacity quickly.”
How to handle touristsThree counties were missing from the Phase One list that Brown read this morning: Multnomah, Washington and Clackamas which are part of the Portland metro region. As the Oregon coast and the Cascade mountains reopen, what is there to stop city dwellers from escaping to rural areas?
“Law enforcement has really important things to do,” Brown said. “I’m not going to be asking them to stop cars that are going to the coast, I’m asking… I’m encouraging Oregonians to be considerate of others.”
During the Wednesday Deschutes Board of County Commissioners meeting, Dr. Nahad Sadr-Azodi, Deschutes County director of Public Health and Dr. Richard Fawcett, Deschutes County Health officer, revealed some telling statistics about travelers and the first COVID-19 outbreaks in this area.
The first 10 to 15 local cases were traced to people who had recently travelled out of the country, mostly to Europe, Sadr-Azodi said. Two cases came from a couple that had been driving across county. Today, the majority of local cases have emerged from community spread, with people ages 20-29 having the most cases.
Four more Deschutes County cases TuesdayThe doctors said that the recent spike of four reported cases on Tuesday came as a result of the new way the Oregon Health Authority is calculating case numbers. Presumptive cases—in which a person has been exposed to another infected individual and then experiences symptoms—is now counted as positive regardless of test results.
Commissioner Phil Henderson was concerned about this new method of calculation, noting that many public policy issues, as well as public pressure to either open or close, rides on the OHA’s daily counts.
Sadr-Azodi explained that 25% of the polymerase chain reaction tests used to identify people with an active COVID-19 infection are false negatives; one-quarter of positive cases are shown to be negative. Someone who has had close contact with COVID-19, followed by symptoms, is more than likely a positive case no matter what the test results say.
The decision to reopen or stay closed, to save the economy or to protect health, has largely polarized along party lines locally and nationally, without many nuanced discussions that consider ways to do some of both at the same time.
“We are venturing out onto thin ice, and we need to step carefully and cautiously,” Brown said.
More to read: The Bend Chamber of Commerce offered some resources and a webinar for businesses for "Oregon's Reopening Plan" on its website.
Businesses announcing reopenings:
The mountain announced it will be open with limited capacity starting May 16. The limited access will be open for 2019/20 passholders, including Outplay 365, Season, Midweek, 12-Day and 4-Day passes. There are only 500 spots open each day, and reservations can be made online up to 36 hours in advance. There is a max of two reservations per transaction and reservations will reopen each day at 6pm.