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Grant County has been given approval to move to the second phase of reopening the county, County Commissioner Jim Hamsher said Thursday.

Grant County is one of 14 counties in Oregon that moved into Phase 2 June 5.

Friday’s move lifts some of the emergency restrictions Gov. Kate Brown put in place 10 weeks ago as the COVID-19 pandemic swept around the world. Oregon has recorded 164 deaths since February, or about 4 per 100,000 people. That’s one of the lowest rates in the country. About 113,000 deaths have been recorded nationwide. An estimated 6.3 million people worldwide have been infected, with 380,000 deaths since the virus first appeared at the end of 2019 in Wuhan, China. The economic shutdown caused by the crisis has pushed the count of unemployed Americans to 40 million.

Under the new rules, the approved counties in Oregon could allow:

• Employees to return to their offices and workplaces, though telecommuting is still strongly recommended when possible.

• Restaurants and bars to stay open until midnight, instead of the current 10 p.m.

• Allow outdoor gatherings of up to 100 people.

• Up to 50 people in an indoor gathering, as long as there are 35 square feet of space allotted for each person. That’s up from the current limit of 25 people.

• Large venues — including churches and theaters — could have up to 250 people at the same time, depending on the size of the facility.

• The return of some sports, such as bowling and swimming, but with social distancing rules in place. Equipment sharing should be minimized.

• Collegiate sports teams could begin training while limiting the number of participants and contact.

• New guidelines for reopening gardens, museums, and zoos.

Brown administration officials have said they expect to have directives involving schools ready to announce sometime next week.

Oregon Health Authority Director Patrick Allen said that the state would come up with the guidelines, but it would be up to local school districts to decide how best to implement the rules.

“Every school and every school district is different,” he said.

Decisions on colleges and universities have not yet been finalized. Phase 2 would allow for sports training by college football teams and others, following rules on social distancing and contact. But Brown said she wanted “our Ducks and Beavers ready to tackle the Huskies and Cougars” anytime the OK was given for games.

Dr. Dean Sidelinger, the state’s health officer and epidemiologist said the state would be watching statistics in each county closely. If goals are not met, he said that counties would not revert to Phase 1, but would have to institute heightened measures to curb any problem areas.

“Reopening is not an on-off switch,” he said. Upticks in any numbers would be a “caution light.”

“We may need to dial back permitted activities,” he said.

In earlier phases of the crisis, the state urged people to stay at home and not venture out for any but the most crucial needs, such as medical appointments or buying food. Sidelinger said that if people do leave home, they should enjoy the outdoors, where transmission of the virus is less likely.

“Being outside is safer than being inside,” Sidelinger said. “We’re very good at doing that in Oregon in the summer.”


Steven Mitchell is a reporter for the Blue Mountain Eagle. Contact him at steven@bmeagle.com or 541-575-0710.

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