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Oregon relaxes some restaurant restrictions

SALEM, Ore. (AP) — Bars and restaurants can reopen for limited outdoor service next week but many restrictions will remain in place until a vaccine against the coronavirus is widely available, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown said on Wednesday.

She pleaded with Oregonians to stay safe during the Thanksgiving holidays, and protect others, by not ignoring safety protocols, like wearing masks and limiting personal contacts.

“Please, please make smart choices this holiday weekend that will protect you, your family and your neighbors,” she told a Zoom news conference. “Irresponsible behavior over Thanksgiving, at best, will only make the pandemic last longer. At worst, it will send one of your loved ones to the ICU.”

State officials also announced vaccines would soon be coming to Oregon, though details remained unclear.

Meanwhile, the rate of infections continue to skyrocket. A total of 8,687 new daily cases occurred last week, a 34% increase over the previous record-high week. Weekly hospitalizations rose to a record 366, a 26% increase.

The revamped restrictions take effect when the current two-week “freeze” expires on Dec. 3. Currently, only take-out restaurant service is allowed. The restaurant industry pushed hard against the restrictions as several eateries closed for good and others were at risk of doing so.

Asked if at a virtual news conference if she was bending to industry pressure, Brown said: “I’m in the business, frankly, of saving lives and also preserving livelihoods.”

Under the new phases of restrictions, counties at extreme risk could have outdoor dining with maximum 50 capacity. Indoor dining, not to exceed 25% capacity, would be allowed for counties at high risk, and with 50% capacity in counties designated as moderate or lower risk.

State epidemiologist Dean Sidelinger said outdoor dining does not mean eating in a place enclosed by cloth or plastic walls, as some restaurants had erected as the weather turns cold and rainy in Oregon. He said a roof is allowed, but three sides should be open.

State officials also said they expect to receive enough doses from the federal government in December to vaccinate 30,000 people, with priority given to health care workers caring for COVID-19 patients.

“Until our COVID-19 vaccines are widely available, health and safety precautions will remain in place so that our schools, our businesses and our communities can reopen and stay open,” Brown said.

Patrick Allen, director of the Oregon Health Authority, or OHA, said details are still muddled.

He told reporters that he spoke on the phone Tuesday with a general from Operation Warp Speed, the federal government’s partnership with private pharmaceutical companies to develop a COVID-19 vaccine.

“There’s still a lot of lack of clarity,” Allen said, adding that Oregon needs more vaccines than are initially coming but he expects the number to increase rapidly, especially if multiple vaccines are distribute.

As of Monday, 21 of Oregon’s 36 counties were designated “extreme risk” because of the numbers of infections. That highest of four risk categories include the counties ones encompassing the Portland metropolitan area, as well as Marion County, Lane County and Deschutes County.

The OHA also reported 1,189 new confirmed and presumptive cases of COVID-19, bringing the state total to 68,503. Another 20 people in the state have died because of the virus, raising the state’s known death toll to 867.

The number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients across Oregon increased to 489, with 113 in intensive care units. Oregon has a total of 146 adult ICU beds, according to the OHA.

Officials said more of a concern than lack of hospital beds is that there may not be enough health care workers to handle a great surge in coronavirus infections.

Follow Andrew Selsky on Twitter at https://twitter.com/andrewselsky

FILE - In this March 17, 2020, file photo, a Peet's Coffee and Tea store, with most of the furniture removed to prevent lingering, is nearly empty in Lake Oswego, Ore. Oregon Gov. Kate Brown on Friday, Nov. 13, 2020, announced a statewide two-week "freeze" which will limit restaurants and bars to take-out only and close gyms, indoor and outdoor recreational facilities during that period. If people do not abide by the governor's latest mandates, which restricts social gatherings to six people, they could face a citation, fine or arrest. (AP Photo/Gillian Flaccus, File)