Grant County began to reopen Friday after the state approved its plan.
The plan will allow Phase 1 reopening of retail stories, restaurants, bars, personal service providers such as salons and some other businesses May 15 with certain restrictions.
“It is Grant County’s intent to open businesses in a measured and phased approach in line with the state’s guidance using an adaptive management plan in order to incorporate guidance from the local, state and federal entities as well as the Grant County Health Department and Grant County Emergency Operations Center Core Medical Work Group that are providing daily updates and requirements,” the county’s plan states.
The governor’s office directed the county to remove all reference to specific business sectors “in order to uniformly apply guidance from the state of Oregon,” according to the plan.
The governor’s office has released Phase 1 reopening guidance for each of the sectors allowed to open that detail specific requirements for businesses within these sectors. Current guidance as of May 14 is attached to this story and may be downloaded.
County Commissioner Jim Hamsher said the only piece of the plan the county had to prove to the state was that they had a bilingual contact tracer for the Hispanic community, which the county then incorporated into the plan.
“We are ready to help our small business owners open back up,” Hamsher said.
The county, in its first step back to normal, will be permitted to hold social gatherings of up to 25 people.
County Judge Scott Myers said, like Gov. Kate Brown said in her approval letter, that reopening does not come without risks.
Amid the looming uncertainty, businesses allowed to reopen under Phase 1 will need to ensure strict social distancing measures and operate under restrictive guidelines that will unlikely feel like business as normal.
Under Brown’s guidelines, all businesses allowed to open under Phase 1 must require employees to wear cloth, paper or disposable face coverings, frequently disinfect and maintain 6 feet of social distancing.
Businesses like barbers and hairdressers can open again — but with restrictions, such as accepting business by appointment only and keeping client contact information for health investigators in case of a surge in positive cases.
Retail stores can open but must limit the number of customers to maintain 6 feet of social distance.
Bars and restaurants, previously restricted to takeout only, can now serve customers inside, but will be required to close by 10 p.m., limit parties to 10 or fewer and space dining room tables far enough apart that patrons can maintain a 6-foot distance between one another.
County Commissioner Sam Palmer said he has heard concerns from restaurant owners about having a limited capacity and the impact it will have on business.
Palmer said the Forest Service’s Repel Academy will be coming into the county next week for a training and that would bring business to the restaurants. He said, even if they order to go, it is still new business to the area.
Palmer said he is encouraging people to patronize local businesses as much as they can.
“We need to do what we can to make sure these businesses succeed,” Palmer said. “Because if not, it is unlikely they’ll come back.”
Palmer said, when it comes to a possible spike in cases, he is most concerned about the spread coming from outside of the county, but the county’s reopening plan has measures in place to address that concern.
According to the county’s reopening plan, although it does not border a state, there are still concerns with interstate travel, mainly from tourism and recreational activities.
Grant County will need to operate for three weeks under Phase 1 of Brown’s plan without a significant uptick in cases or hospital usage, while maintaining the ability to track new cases quickly, before it can move on to Phase 2.
Palmer said the governor’s office has yet to release specific details about the next phase, but he said the county is eager to get started on the plan.
“We want to start on Phase 2 today,” he said.
County Health Administrator Kimberly Lindsay said the team at the Emergency Operations Center worked hard and submitted a well-written reopening plan to the governor’s office. She said the county can now look ahead and focus on moving forward thoughtfully.
“We are not immune to this,” she said. “Other rural areas across the country have been hard hit, and we need to move forward thoughtfully.”
In some of the state’s least densely populated areas with its lowest infection rates, Grant, Harney, Lake, Baker and Malheur counties were approved to reopen.
Rep. Mark Owens, who represents the district, expressed gratitude to those who took part in reopening effort.
“We are thankful to be moving forward and opening our eastern and rural frontier counties. These approvals are a direct result of the hard work and dedication of our local, regional and county (leaders) to put rural Oregon back to work and reopen our economies, while also recognizing the need to protect our vulnerable populations,” Owens said in a press release.
A press release from Grant County said the approval was made possible by all the hard work and collaboration of the county commissioners, medical staff, Grant County Economic Development, Oregon RAIN and other community leaders.
“Approval for Phase 1 is a positive indicator of our collective efforts to limit the spread of COVID-19 in Grant County,” said interim Emergency Management Coordinator Dave Dobler in the statement. “We need our community to continue being smart about maintaining physical distance, practicing good hygiene and wearing masks when distancing cannot be maintained so that we can keep our loved ones, neighbors and coworkers healthy.”