Grant County officials submitted a draft plan to reopen businesses to the state of Oregon for approval Monday, but other counties that have submitted plans have been told reopening won’t happen before May 15.
The plan may or may not need to be modified based on future guidance and requirements from the state of Oregon.
The Grant County Emergency Operations Center was scheduled to host a videoconference meeting with local businesses discussing the plan Tuesday, May 5, past press time. Videos of that meeting and a meeting with the medical sector were planned to be uploaded to the county’s new COVID-19 website, grantcountycovid.com.
“Several counties have already submitted plans to reopen with the state ...,” said Stephanie LeQuieu, Grant County’s Oregon RAIN rural venture catalyst, in an email announcing the meetings. “These counties will need to resubmit their plans because of multiple new requirements released in the last 72 hours, along with other requirements shared by the governor on Friday.”
District Attorney Jim Carpenter said in a statement Monday that “no individual or business owner within Grant County that is open and demonstrating reasonable precautions to protect those they come in contact with and serve will be prosecuted for defying orders to shelter in place or remain closed.”
On Friday, Wallowa County applied to open select businesses under Oregon’s Phase 1 guidelines as early as May 4, but Gov. Kate Brown said, if the plan is approved, reopening won’t occur until at least May 15.
The application details how businesses targeted for Phase 1 opening can meet the guidelines. Those businesses include restaurants, bars, child care, retail, outfitters and outdoor recreation. It also includes specifics on how hospitals will deal with surges, assurances that care providers will have a 14-day stock of personal protective equipment on hand at all times.
At this point, it seems that Wallowa County can check all the boxes to qualify for a Phase 1 opening that would include recommended limits of 50 miles for travel, social distancing in retail shops and restaurants and closure of restaurants and bars at 10 p.m. The final guidelines will be published next week, Brown said.
Gov. Brown, her staff and OHA director Pat Allen held an internet conference with commissioners from rural eastern Oregon Friday, including Wallowa, Union, Wasco, Morrow, Umatilla, Malheur and Harney counties.
The meeting allowed commissioners to comment on and ask questions about the draft guidelines issued last week. The take-away included that it may be unlikely that large gatherings of more than 250 people will be allowed through the end of the summer, and that the governor’s office is reluctant to include opening of hair and beauty salons in Phase 1.
Commissioners also expressed concern over the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife’s allowance of out-of state hunting and fishing beginning May 5 and exactly how they would be able to show the required “downward trend” since many of the participating counties had few or no COVID-19 cases.
Brown was unsure whether personal services, such as hair salons and manicures, which allow fairly intimate contact, would be included. The governor’s staff seemed acquainted only with large hair and nail salons that seated a dozen or more clients simultaneously, but were unfamiliar with smaller rural businesses. Wallowa County Commissioner Susan Roberts responded that she had asked businesses in Wallowa County to provide opening plans, and some beauty parlors had provided plans for opening.
“These shops out here are one or two people shops,” she said.
The same concern was voiced by Morrow County Commissioner Melissa Lindsay, who told of a beautician in Heppner who works with one or two customers at a time in their entire place.
“She has a plan already written up on how she can isolate and keep her customers safe,” she said. “The hard thing is that, after I got off that phone call, I drove past Wal-Mart with a packed parking lot, and I stepped into Safeway — and walked right back out the door because it was absolutely packed. There was no way customers were maintaining the 6-foot distancing. If we could phase it in for smaller shops, I really think that these parlors can do a good job of distancing and protecting their client’s health.”
Roberts pleaded for a decision on Phase 1 opening sooner than May 15.
“Lots of our restaurants have submitted plans,” she said. “But I just don’t know if they can make it for two more weeks. They are hanging on by a very thin thread.”
Roberts also asked for more specific information about allowing larger gatherings later in the summer, a concern shared by Umatilla County Commissioner George Murdock.
“When can we get some specificity of gathering sizes?” Murdock asked. “We are under some significant pressure to make decisions on upcoming events that require a lot of preplanning. These are multi-million dollar activities, and we’re getting a little nervous ...” referring specifically to the Pendleton Round-Up.
Brown said they are working on it.
“September is a ways off,” she said. “The challenge for Oregon is to predict these things. We don’t have a sense of what will happen when we start to open. So we need to look at the science behind that. It will be a few days, a couple of weeks, before we make a decision on that.”
Brown would not commit to any date allowing larger gatherings (presumably Phase 2).
“We aren’t controlling the timeline,” she said. “The disease controls it. But you all are doing a great job.”
Pat Allen, director of the Oregon Health Authority, said large gatherings were unlikely to be allowed soon.
“Just to manage expectations, I would tell you that from our standpoint, we think it’s extremely unlikely that we would be providing advice to the governor anytime this summer that very large events over 250 people are going to be a good idea,” he said. “But ultimately that decision has not been made, and the governor will have to give you the timeline for that. But that’s where I think we are from a health advice standpoint.”
Wasco County Commissioner Steve Kramer asked whether there was a hard date for approval of guidelines.
“It will be next week,” Brown said Friday.
The Blue Mountain Eagle contributed to this report.