Empty Streets

Lights from downtown businesses glisten off the pavement Saturday after a passing rain shower covered a nearly empty Wall Street in downtown Bend.

State officials initially did not want to include bars in the first phase of reopening Oregon counties. That is why bars and restaurants that open for dine-in service must close by 10 p.m. under the guidelines announced by Gov. Kate Brown.

“It was an imperfect way to get at kind of what the intent was. Our intention was never to open bars,” said Leah Horner, who is Brown’s adviser on jobs and the economy. “But we didn’t want to close down people’s ability to get a drink from a bar in a restaurant.”

There was not a clear licensure that would allow restaurants to serve liquor but keep other bars closed.

“The only way to get at that was by putting a 10 p.m. closure time,” Horner said Friday during a videoconference of the Governor’s Coronavirus Economic Advisory Council.

Council members pointed to ambiguity and uncertainty in the state’s three-phase criteria for when certain businesses operations and public activities should resume.

Horner acknowledged that officials were still figuring out how to share adequate information about the reopening from closures due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

As of May 15, furniture stores, art galleries, jewelry shops and boutiques may reopen if they follow the state’s physical distancing and health guidelines. Many other businesses can’t open until their county government files a reopening plan and then receives state approval.

Horner, who also is the governor’s Regional Solutions director, said many details remain in flux, such as when face coverings would be required at certain types of businesses.

“It may take a little bit to ramp up to that. We’re still looking at what that timeline looks like but acknowledging there needs to be a little more clarity on that,” she said.

Guidelines on child care, summer school, camps, gyms and transit will be announced next week. After talking with gym owners, Horner said, officials realized that some gym operations could reopen safely.

Members of the economic advisory council asked for clarity on liability protections, travel and other issues.

“As counties open up, if Deschutes County is open but Marion County is closed, could the residents of Salem travel to Deschutes County?” asked Todd Davidson of Travel Oregon.

Jason Brandt of the Oregon Restaurant and Lodging Association pointed out that Brown did not shut down lodging but restricted travel, leaving the lodging industry in a bind.

“For a lot of our lodging operators, they’re kind of just waiting on pins and needles to understand where they fit in on the phases,” Brandt said. “And then how they can prove, which a lot of them can already right now, that their operations are entirely safe for their guests and also for their employees?”

He and others also asked about the prospects for weddings, group meetings and other events in hotels and elsewhere, as well as operations of zoos, museums and gardens.

“State Fair folks said they’re not going to operate, but does that mean some of these maybe smaller meetings can still occur? I think the answer is probably yes,” Horner said. “So we’re going to be working through some of those pieces.”

Union officials asked that better information be provided for workers, including what they should do if they are called back to their jobs but lack child care or are at high risk of contracting COVID-19.

The governor’s staff said they are starting on developing worker guidelines. They also confirmed that the annual state minimum wage increase would occur in July as scheduled.

Officials also announced that Business Oregon will be taking applications for matching grants for local governments that create COVID-19 grant or loan programs to assist very small businesses. The state initially will dispense $2.5 million.

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