Gov. Kate Brown’s office privately disclosed new details Monday about how Oregon could begin reopening amid the coronavirus pandemic, including potential requirements that county officials submit a formal request to the governor and certify they have enough personal protective equipment for local first responders.
The “Reopening Oregon” framework remains in draft form and is subject to revision. State officials hope to finalize it during the week of May 4, including specific guidelines for various businesses and geographic regions as part of a three-phase plan.
Easing restrictions in place since March would be contingent on seeing declines in identified coronavirus cases and increasing the state’s capacity to test people and trace their contacts, among other things. Modeling suggests Oregon may not be able to reopen parts of its economy until late May at the earliest.
Following the example of the federal reopening effort, Oregon’s first phase would target eight types of businesses or activities: schools and organized youth activities; sit-down restaurants; gyms; bars; personal services; large venues such as churches and theaters; plus visitors to hospitals or senior care centers; and non-emergency medical procedures.
Phase One would still call for all vulnerable people to stay home, minimize non-essential travel and encourage working from home. The draft proposal discourages social gatherings of more than 10 people, although that figure hasn’t been reviewed by health officials for endorsement.
“This is not everybody back in the workplace,” Elana Pirtle-Guiney, Brown’s legislative director, told state lawmakers during a conference call Monday afternoon.
Brown’s draft plan would require county officials to request the reopening of their jurisdictions – preferably, it appears, in conjunction with other counties as part of broader regions.
Brown also wants a written recommendation from the county’s public health officer about the reopening, a formal vote by the county board and a written pledge from local hospitals to report numbers daily to the Oregon Health Authority on protective supplies and bed counts, according to the 25-page framework obtained by The Oregonian/OregonLive.
“What you are looking at is a draft document,” Pirtle-Guiney said during the conference call. “So please don’t share it. We don’t want to make promises we can’t keep to anybody – and this certainly isn’t a promise of what this will look like yet.”
The proposal indicates that not all eight types of businesses would open in Phase One. For instance, schools, gyms and large venues are “likely” to remain closed during the initial phase, and visitors would be prohibited from going to hospitals and care facilities, according to the draft.
It does indicate that child care facilities could reopen during Phase One. Work groups are studying what to do with the other industries targeted for the first phase.
“We know that for other parts of our economy to open back up, we’re going to need to look at least at child care,” Pirtle-Guiney said.
If after 14 days of loosened restrictions, health officials don’t see signs of trouble, Oregon or a particular region could move to Phase Two.
As currently drafted, schools and gyms could reopen with social distancing, travel could resume, and gatherings could increase to 50 people. But those details haven’t been blessed by health officials, either.
If those loosened restrictions don’t cause additional problems, Oregon or specific regions could move to Phase Three.
The draft would allow larger mass gatherings and unrestricted staffing at worksites. Visitors could return to nursing homes and restaurants and bars could have more seating. Phase Three also has not been vetted by health officials, however.
State leaders are planning to brief dozens of business groups and local government officials on the proposal this week, collecting feedback from some of the hardest-hit industries such as restaurants and retail. Pirtle-Guiney emphasized that the framework is changing almost daily.
“We are working through getting this information to as many people as we can,” Pirtle-Guiney said, later adding that lawmakers could share parts of the presentation that aren’t subject to revision with constituents.
Oregon officials appear to be taking a cautious approach, recognizing that easing social distancing will enable the potentially deadly virus to spread much easier. Already, Oregon has identified nearly 2,000 infections – which thousands more estimated – and 75 residents have died.
Pressure is building across the nation to ease some restrictions while maintaining safety. Georgia’s governor announced Monday that some businesses, such as gyms and barbers, would open Friday, with theaters and restaurants to open next Monday.
And Oregon Senate Republicans are pushing for relaxing rules in rural counties. Brown first announced the broadest brush strokes of the reopening effort last week.
“The rural districts my caucus and I represent should be able to return to a new normal and get back to work,” the party leader, Sen. Herman Baertschiger Jr. of Grants Pass, said in a statement Monday.
Patrick Allen, director of the Oregon Health Authority, cautioned during the conference call with lawmakers that reopening parts of Oregon will come with risks. He said officials would need to monitor the situation closely and “jump on outbreaks as quickly as we can.”
“It’s going to be risky for all of us,” he said.
Pirtle-Guiney reminded lawmakers to temper expectations and recognize that any reopening wouldn’t look like a pre-COVID-19 world.
Oregon hasn’t been hit particularly hard by the virus, compared to other states, since Brown announced the stay-at-home order March 23. As a result, the state runs the risk of more problems going forward if coronavirus surges during reopening efforts.
“We shut things down quickly, which was good,” Pirtle-Guiney said. “But it means that Oregon is more vulnerable going forward. There is not yet immunity to this virus.”
State officials are looking to modify the framework for rural areas with limited cases, which may be able to reopen most quickly. The goal is to lift restrictions across parts of Oregon largely by region, or in some instances county by county, not on a full-state basis.
“We will need your local elected officials to give their thumbs up of support,” Pirtle-Guiney said, “that they feel like their community is ready for reopening.”
-- Brad Schmidt
This article was originally published by The Oregonian/Oregonlive, one of more than a dozen news organizations throughout the state sharing their coverage of the novel coronavirus outbreak to help inform Oregonians about this evolving health issue.