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Oregon tightens face mask enforcement; adds 8-county COVID-19 watch list

The new enforcement is an effort to make sure restaurants, bars and other businesses comply with state rules over the Fourth of July weekend and beyond.

PORTLAND, Ore. — As COVID-19 cases continue to surge around the state, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown on Friday announced she is increasing enforcement statewide on face coverings, physical distancing and business crowd limits.

She also announced eight counties outside the Portland metro area are now on a COVID-19 watch list.

The new enforcement is an effort to make sure restaurants, bars and other businesses comply with state rules over the Fourth of July weekend and beyond.

“State enforcement agencies will be out in force to ensure businesses are in compliance. Those businesses not complying with gathering size limits, face covering requirements, physical distancing rules and other standards face stiff penalties,” Brown said.

Workers from the Oregon Liquor Control Commission (OLCC), with help from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), will be doing spot checks and inspections all over Oregon during the Fourth of July weekend.

“We want to make sure our licensees maintain their diligence this holiday weekend and not be complacent,” said OLCC Executive Director Steve Marks. “Quite frankly the health of Oregonians and the ability for bars and restaurants to stay open is dependent on it.”

Businesses that refuse to comply could be cited, fined or issued a Red Warning Notice. A Red Warning Notice could be given to a business that is in willful violation of Brown’s executive orders. Those businesses would be closed until the violation is remedied, according to the governor’s office.

On Friday, Oregon reported 344 new COVID-19 cases. On Thursday, the state set a new record with 375 cases. Health officials predict that the increase may become much steeper during the next month - potentially reaching 900 new cases per day.

RELATED: Oregon reports 375 new COVID-19 cases; highest daily total of pandemic

The state has seen five straight weeks of case growth, especially in rural communities in central and eastern Oregon. That’s why Gov. Brown also announced that eight counties are now on a watch list for COVID-19 cases: Jefferson, Lake, Lincoln, Malheur, Morrow, Umatilla, Union, and Wasco.

Health officials will watch the counties closely in the coming days. If they don’t see a decrease in cases soon, business closures and smaller gathering limits may be ordered, Brown said.

“We stand at a crossroads this weekend,” Brown said. “We can either stop the spread of COVID-19, or infections and hospitalizations will rise across Oregon and I will reinstate restrictive measures in impacted counties and business sectors.”

RELATED: OSP trooper on leave, others under investigation for refusing to wear face masks in coffee shop