Starting Friday, Malheur County will join 18 other counties in a backslide of risk levels associated with the spread of COVID-19, according to an announcement from Gov. Kate Brown on Tuesday afternoon. Of those counties, 15 are moving from “high risk” into “extreme risk.” The change is due to data from April 18-24, and will be effective through May 6.
Malheur County was moved to the lowest of the four risk levels on April 9. Prior to that, it had been in the “moderate risk” level since Feb. 26; and before that it had been in “extreme risk” restrictions since Nov. 18, 2020.
‘Enough is enough’
Dissatisfied with the announcement, local lawmakers penned a letter immediately to Brown and Oregon Health Authority Director Patrick Allen.
Sen. Lynn Findley, R-Vale, who represents Senate District 30, and Rep. Mark Owens, R-Crane, who represents House District 60 began their letter to Brown and Allen saying, “Respectfully, enough is enough.”
The lawmakers say that the science and data do not support the decision and that “our businesses are being unfairly and unreasonably targeted.” Furthermore, they say $20 million of support for counties will not “adequately address the needs nor does it get to solving the roots of this problem. “
The letter paints a brief picture of business and community hardships — including permanent business closures, tens of thousands of unemployed Oregonians, lost revenues and bankruptcies — that have resulted from the shutdowns.
“We have followed the stringent protocols … There is no data showing small businesses, restaurants and bars, gyms and fitness facilities are responsible for high transmission rates — in fact, it is just the opposite.
The lawmakers say the inconsistency in measuring metrics is “alarming and certainly prevents the ability to fully understand the circumstances by which decisions are being made.” Additionally, they say the rollout of vaccines has been “disorganized, disorderly and delayed.
“Frankly, our small businesses are not the problem. They should not be penalized again or further; it is not their responsibility to shoulder the burden of COVID-19,” the letter reads, and concludes by asking Brown and Allen to reconsider the change.
Comments from the Malheur County Health Department were unavailable by press time.
Restrictions ramp back up
Many of the restrictions that were relaxed in the lowest risk category will now be strengthened again, per guidance from the Oregon Health Authority and Brown.
Examples of the changes that begin on Friday include a decrease in at-home gathering sizes, from 10 people down to eight indoors, and from 12 people down to 10 outdoors. The maximum number of households at those gatherings also decreases from four to three.
Other changes are related to indoor and outdoor capacity, include those for eating and drinking establishments (including having to close at 11 p.m., an hour earlier), recreational and fitness, outdoor entertainment, state institutions, and facilities such as funeral homes, mortuaries and cemeteries, with the latter four having to reduce from 75% to 50% capacity or 150 people, whichever is smaller; and for outdoor events will now be down from 350 to 250 people and the capacity limits for faith-based institutions remains a suggestion only.
It also reestablishes the cap on numbers which was gone in the “lower risk” category. For restaurants and bars, the capacity is not to exceed 50% or 100 people, whichever is smaller, with a limit of six people per table; the outdoor capacity remains at eight people per table.
Full contact sports are still allowed, however, for outdoor entertainment, the occupancy is reduced from 50% to 25%.
Visitation will still be allowed inside and outside longterm care facilities.
In an effort to speed up the return to normal business operations, county COVID-19 data will be evaluated weekly for at least the next three weeks, according to Brown. Any updates to county risk levels next week will be announced on May 4 and take effect on May 7.