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'Don't come to the gorge': Oregon counties mixed on messages to visitors during Phase 1

If counties are approved to move into Phase 1, they will be allowed to reopen restaurants and bars, along with personal service businesses like salons and gyms.

PORTLAND, Ore. — All but three of Oregon's 36 counties have applied to open under Phase 1 this Friday as the state begins to slowly ease the restrictions put in place to slow the coronavirus.

If counties are approved, they will be allowed to reopen restaurants and bars, along with personal service businesses like salons and gyms, with social distancing practices in places.

The three counties in the metro area, Multnomah, Washington and Clackamas, are the only ones that have not applied to reopen.

For those that may open, there are a variety of answers to the question of whether they will welcome visitors.

In Wasco County, home of The Dalles, there is anticipation. It’s a popular spot in the Columbia River Gorge for all things outdoors.

But public health director Teri Thalhofer said there are limited health care options. She also pointed out that public health is going back to isolating people who have tested positive for COVID-19, and telling those who were in contact with positive cases to quarantine for 14 days.

“I actually would say at this time, don’t come. The parks in the gorge did not open specifically for that reason. And the recommendations are you don’t travel more than 50 miles from your home so ... don’t come to the gorge,” said Thalhofer.

In Marion County, home of Salem, and less than 50 miles from many parts of the Portland area, county board chairman Colm Willis said small businesses are hurting badly in the county and he would not mind visitors once Phase 1 is approved.

“I think, so long as people are maintaining social distancing, I think we’ll be OK. I think what has me concerned is if we get big crowds of people and they’re ignoring the social distancing rules and they’re cramming people together. I would say no, you need to go home,” said Willis.

Northwest of Marion County sit the famous vineyards and wineries of Yamhill County, another popular destination for the metro area. County board chair Casey Kulla seems torn over what to tell visitors.

“I would say that the message is just a reminder that we all need to be respectful of the spaces that other people live in and work in. I’m not going to say don’t come to Yamhill County because for years and years and years we’ve been saying come to Yamhill County because it’s an amazing place to visit. But, I just ask people to be careful,” said Kulla.

“Each decision that a visitor makes is part of them taking personal responsibility. Public health only works when each of us takes responsibility for our actions, whether that is maintaining physical distancing or sanitizing hands or wearing a face covering. Ask yourself: ‘Am I protecting others from my microbiome today?’" added Kulla.

The north coast, which includes some of the biggest tourist spots in the state in Cannon Beach, Seaside and Astoria, is not ready for visitors, said county chair Kathleen Sullivan.

“We’re not going to be able to handle at this time, summer-level crowds. That would be a disaster. So, we’d just ask for your continued patience and we’ll be more than happy to have you out later,” she said.

By later, she suggested maybe three weeks after Phase 1 begins and the county enters Phase 2, which allows even more relaxing of the isolation rules.

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