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Business opposition grows to Brown's COVID-19 'freeze'

A growing number of businesses and business organizations are opposing Oregon Gov. Kate Brown’s statewide “freeze” to slow the spread of COVID-19.

Among the most recent opponents is the Independent Restaurant Alliance of Oregon, which sent Brown a letter Sunday claiming that requiring restaurants and bars to only serve to-go food will lead to thousands of permanent closures.

“Restaurants and bars cannot survive with to-go operations only. A survey of independently owned restaurants indicates that the loss of indoor dining results in a revenue loss on average of 81.75% thus forcing closures and mass layoffs,” said the letter from the organization, which was signed by 300 restaurant owners. “Additionally, our businesses don’t operate like hardware stores, we can’t just flip a switch and walk away. Each time we close we lose perishable inventory and we have to maintain payroll to properly shut down the business.”

The letter was sent two days after Brown announced the new restrictions Friday. They will be effective statewide for at least two weeks starting Wednesday and four weeks in Multnomah County and possibly Washington County.

Anticipating the announcement, the 38-member Coronavirus Recovery Business Coalition sent Brown a letter saying such restrictions would hurt workers without guaranteeing any public health benefits.

“We implore you, Governor, if you are considering additional restrictions or actual closures, please take a pause. Let us work with you to develop a better plan. Arbitrarily closing businesses and reacting to this crisis without a plan that addresses the root of the problem will certainly harm Oregonians across our state without ensuring any real results,” said the letter.

Individual business owners are also speaking out against the restriction. They include Jim Bernau, founder and CEO of Willamette Valley Vineyards.

“We support efforts to combat the spread of coronavirus and local businesses who implement the proper safety measures when hosting guests on-site,” Bernau said. “The ‘one size fits all’ regulatory approach will hurt small business employees who are exceeding all safety measures.”

On Tuesday, Brown announced that the state will provide $55 million to Oregon businesses that have been affected by the restrictions.

The $55 million will be allocated to counties, with each receiving $500,000 plus a per capita allocation, according to a press release. It will be up to counties to decide how businesses apply to receive funds and communicating the application process to businesses.

Brown’s restrictions include:

  • Limiting restaurants and bars to takeout only
  • Limiting social get-togethers (indoors and outdoors) to no more than six people from no more than two households
  • Limiting faith-based organizations to a maximum of 25 people indoors or 50 people outdoors
  • Closing gyms and fitness organizations
  • Closing indoor recreational facilities, museums, indoor entertainment activities and indoor pools and sports courts
  • Closing outdoor recreational facilities, zoos, gardens, aquariums, outdoor entertainment activities and outdoor pools
  • Limiting grocery stores and pharmacies to a maximum of 75% capacity and encouraging curbside pickup
  • Limiting retail stores and retail malls (indoor and outdoor) to a maximum of 75% capacity and encouraging curbside pickup
  • Closing venues that host or facilitate indoor or outdoor events
  • Requiring all businesses to mandate work-from-home to the greatest extent possible and closing offices to the public
  • Prohibiting indoor visiting in long-term care facilities

The freeze does not affect current protocols for personal services such as barbershops, hair salons or nonmedical massage therapy. It also does not change protocols for homeless sheltering, outdoor recreation and sports, youth programs, child care, K-12 schools, K-12 sports currently allowed, current Division 1 and professional athletics exemptions and higher education. All will continue to follow previous guidelines from the Oregon Health Authority.

Brown said the measures are enforceable by law.