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Brown needs to better explain risk metrics

Some restaurants in Union County are serving sit-down meals to patrons.

Union County remains in Oregon’s extreme risk category for spreading the coronavirus. So these establishments are not following the state’s orders prohibiting dining in. But they are not waving flags in defiance, either.

We understand what they’re doing and why.

These businesses — really, their owners and the people who work there — are trying to survive. This is not about gaming a system because we’re out here in Eastern Oregon or throwing shade at Gov. Kate Brown or making a hullabaloo about some kind of assertion of rights.

This is about finding opportunities to stay in business until business can resume as normal.

This also is not like what was happening in late 2020 with Anytime Fitness, which we reported was operating in open defiance of state mandates regarding the pandemic.

From the accounts we’ve gathered, these restaurants in Union County are operating at low capacities so patrons can remain socially distant, and their staff are wearing masks, washing their hands and cleaning tables between customers. They’re taking all the precautions they can to make their businesses and thus customers and employees safe.

Save one, of course — closing down to in-person dining.

We hold our breath every two weeks in Union County when the latest update on the state’s risk categories comes out. And every two weeks we are disappointed. Union County just keeps missing out on dropping from extreme to high risk. And with that, we remain in a continual lockdown on businesses and social interactions and any kind of life that looks a little more like it used to.

That has been the story for almost a year straight here and in much of Eastern Oregon. Meanwhile, Multnomah, Washington and Clackamas counties in the most population-dense area in the state have been allowed in-person dining since Feb. 12.

Sure, it’s at 25% of capacity, but it still leaves plenty of us in Eastern Oregon scratching our heads. Why can those restaurants serve patrons indoors when so many other places can’t?

We have editorialized before that the governor’s office needs to do a better job of informing the public about why it is making the decisions on the coronavirus that it does. We’ve even heard from Eastern Oregon lawmakers who have asked for those explanations and haven’t received decent answers.

How does Brown and her team derive the standards for the risk categories? Why is two weeks better than one week or five weeks when it comes to reevaluating? All of it seems arbitrary. What’s the science that supports any of this?

We’re not calling out the local restaurant owners and operators for making the decisions they are making. We also are not encouraging people to defy state mandates that aim to curtail the spread of this virus. But we do encourage locals to order takeout from these establishments when they can.

We want our local restaurants to survive — and get back to thriving as soon as possible. While government grants and low-interest loans have been necessary to help any number of businesses, regular patrons are probably the best answer for their success.

But the governor and the Oregon Health Authority need to better explain the reasons behind the risk categories and evaluation period. She and her administration owe that to the public.