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Gov. Brown details plans for reopening

Gov. Kate Brown gave details Thursday for how counties that meet certain criteria can begin the first phase of reopening of their economies May 15, but she warned large events such as concerts, festivals and sports with live audiences won’t return until there is a reliable treatment or vaccine for COVID-19.

Organizers of big public events should cancel or significantly change events through at least the end of September, state officials said.

“This virus is still very dangerous, and it still poses a great threat,” Brown said. “Until there is a vaccine, unfortunately, we will not be able to go back to life as we knew it — not here in Oregon, or frankly anywhere. I know this can be a really tough reality to face. However, I am inspired by the ways Oregonians have taken on a shared responsibility to protect each other through this crisis.”

Brown said Oregon’s ability to gradually reopen its economy will depend on how well residents and businesses follow safety measures meant to reduce risk.

Oregon Health Authority Director Pat Allen said he feels confident most counties can meet criteria to begin reopening as early as May 15.

He said wearing a face cover, hand washing, physical distancing and other measures must still be followed to avoid a COVID-19 surge as the economy opens up.

“This is a calculated, mitigated risk — but a risk nonetheless,” Allen said.

He said COVID-19 is still lurking in communities and especially threatens health care workers, senior citizens, low-income residents and people of color, who have been hardest hit by the virus.

Allen said quick action by the state and responsible behavior by residents has so far helped Oregon avoid some of the worst-case scenarios that hit other parts of the nation and world.

Oregon has the fourth-lowest number of COVID-19 cases in the nation and the eighth-lowest number of deaths, he said.

“Keeping Oregon safe and strong depends on all of us,” Allen said.

Jackson County officials, backed by local hospitals, say the county meets phase one criteria, which include having hospital capacity to handle a surge, stockpiles of personal protective equipment such as medical face masks, and the ability to test people for COVID-19 and track down those who may have been exposed to people with COVID-19.Counties must also show COVID-19 hospitalizations are falling.

Jackson County submitted its reopening request Thursday to the governor.

If Jackson County wins approval from the governor, retailers such as furniture stores, art galleries and boutiques that were closed can reopen May 15 if they can follow safety guidelines.

Restaurants that have been limited to take-out and delivery can welcome diners back inside, but people who come to a restaurant together must sit at least 6 feet away from other individuals or groups. All employees must wear face coverings. Eating and drinking must end by 10 p.m.

Gyms, which have been shut down, must institute physical distancing, extra sanitation and place limits on the number of people inside at one time.

Personal care businesses such as hair salons, barber shops and massage providers must screen customers for sickness, keep customers at least 6 feet apart and remove magazines, drinks and snacks from waiting areas. Workers and customers must wear face coverings, capes and smocks, depending on the services provided.

Local gatherings of up to 25 people can resume, but they can’t involve traveling.

Allen said people should take advantage of services, businesses and recreation in their own communities, rather than visiting other parts of the state. Spreading the virus around endangers Oregon’s ability to reopen.

Across the state, child care, summer school, camps and youth programs can start up again if they follow safety guidelines.

Child care is currently reserved for essential workers only, which has caused hardship for many working parents.

Child care will be open to all as soon as May 15, but priority will still go to essential workers.

Summer school, camps and youth programs can open with physical distancing.

Brown said child care is absolutely essential to letting parents return to work, and education is the bedrock of society.

Next week, the state plans to issue detailed guidelines to help keep children safe as they participate in those activities.

Oregon is adopting a statewide face-covering policy that requires workers in certain businesses where physical distancing can’t be maintained to wear a mask or cloth material that covers their nose and mouth. Those businesses include grocery stores, pharmacies, public transit, salons and other personal service businesses and ride-sharing services.

The state is strongly recommending that those businesses establish a face-covering policy for customers, too.

For other indoor public spaces, the state is strongly recommending that people wear face coverings, especially when 6 feet of distance can’t be maintained.

Although outdoor recreation is loosening up, people should not use high-contact facilities such as pools, playgrounds and basketball courts, Allen said.

The state’s top goals are to minimize hospitalizations and deaths, while allowing people to safely return to work so they can support themselves and their families.

But state officials warn that every restriction Oregon lifts will increase COVID-19 transmission and cases.

State officials are asking Oregonians to continue taking steps to protect everyone. Those include vulnerable populations staying home, limited visitation at nursing homes and hospitals, limited gatherings and travel, staying home when sick, working remotely when possible and increased hygiene, cleaning and sanitation.

In coordination with the medical system and local public health officials, the state is widening COVID-19 testing and fast-tracking contact tracing and isolation of those exposed to people with COVID-19.

The state could put restrictions back in place if COVID-19 cases rise by 5% or more in a week, if more COVID-19 patients have to be hospitalized in a week, and if contact tracers can’t contact 95% of potentially exposed people within 24 hours.

If any of those measurements are violated, the Oregon Health Authority will call an immediate meeting with local public health officials for further discussion and evaluation.

The first phase of Oregon’s reopening will last for at least 21 days, state officials said.

Counties that meet criteria will be allowed to enter phase two, which will expand gathering sizes, allow more office work and begin to allow visitors to congregate care settings such as nursing homes.

Local gatherings of up to 100 people with physical distancing could be allowed, although state officials warn that number is tentative and subject to change.

State officials said specifics of phase two are still being worked out and will be based on data collected in phase one.

The third phase covers large events, which state officials say pose the highest risk.

“Concerts, conventions, festivals, live audience sports won’t be possible until a reliable treatment or prevention is available. It is unknown at this time when this will be,” state officials said in a written description of the phases.

“Therefore, all large gatherings should be canceled or significantly modified through at least September. Further guidance on large gatherings scheduled for later in the fall will be provided this summer,” officials said.

Brown said she understands Oregonians will miss taking part in large events.

“I know this is really, really hard. I, too, will miss visiting our fairs and festivals this year,” she said.

Brown said events such as fairs could potentially continue in a modified format if they limit the number of people attending and take other safety steps.

As for schools reopening in the fall, the governor said state officials, doctors, educators and parents are working together on ways to protect students and staff.

Brown said she feels it’s critically important to get students back to school in the fall, but school will not look the same.

Contact sports such as football will likely be banned at least through September. When sports do resume, they may take place without fans watching in the stands, state officials said.

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Vickie Aldous at 541-776-4486 or valdous@rosebudmedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @VickieAldous.

Empty downtown Jacksonville during the COVID-19 pandemic. Mail Tribune file photo