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Jackson County among 31 counties allowed to reopen

Gov. Kate Brown has authorized phase one reopening for 31 counties starting Friday, including all of Southern Oregon.

Brown said she was incredibly impressed by the counties’ detailed requests to reopen and the preparation they did to meet reopening criteria.

Marion and Polk counties in the Salem area didn’t win permission to begin reopening. Marion County has the highest infection rate of any Oregon county.

State officials will monitor those counties’ progress on a weekly basis and consider whether to authorize phase one reopening later.

Brown said she has no doubt the counties that didn’t win permission to reopen are disappointed.

“But my job is to make hard decisions, even when they are not popular,” she said during a Thursday morning press conference.

Clackamas, Multnomah and Washington counties in the Portland area didn’t submit applications to reopen. The Portland area also has been hard hit by COVID-19.

On Thursday afternoon, state officials announced Jefferson, Umatilla and Morrow counties had also been granted permission to reopen after county officials there submitted more information about meeting safety and preparedness requirements.

Both Jefferson and Umatilla counties have seen recent upticks in COVID-19 cases.

Oregon Health Authority Director Pat Allen said the personal actions of people every day will determine whether communities slow or accelerate the spread of COVID-19.

“For many Oregonians that we’ve approved to move into phase one, I know that today’s announcement will come as welcome relief. For Oregonians that live in counties that didn’t get a green light, I know this may be hard news,” Allen said.

He said residents of the Portland area are wondering how long it will take for their counties to begin reopening.

“Regardless of where you live, my message to Oregonians remains the same,” Allen said. “More than ever, we are all in this pandemic together. Getting to open, staying open and moving on to phase two depend on all of us protecting each other, our families and ourselves.”

Jackson County commissioners embraced the news that restrictions will ease.

“Jackson County citizens are ready to get back to work and support local businesses,” said Jackson County Board of Commissioners Chair Colleen Roberts. “This shutdown has had a tremendously negative impact on our community, and getting approval to reopen is very welcome news.”

Jackson County reported no new COVID-19 cases Thursday, leaving its running total at 50. In recent weeks, it had a single case on April 24 and a single case Tuesday.

The governor warned that everyone will have to do their part to help control the spread of the virus. Restrictions could go back in place in counties that see a spike in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations, although state officials said they’ll first work with local public health officials to tackle outbreaks.

“We ask that everyone in our community follow the phase one guidelines so that we can continue on to the next phases as quickly as possible,” Jackson County Commissioner Bob Strosser said.

Phase one of reopening will last at least 21 days while health officials monitor the impacts.

Dr. Dean Sidelinger, the state’s health officer, said if there is a surge in COVID-19 cases from phase one reopening, it will likely take two or three weeks to materialize as newly sickened people fall ill.

Phase two will bring a further easing of restrictions. Large gatherings such as concerts, festivals and sports with live audiences can resume in phase three, but Brown said she wants to see a vaccine or reliable treatment for COVID-19 before that happens.

Jackson County officials said it took the work of the whole community to control the spread of COVID-19 and win approval to reopen. The community launched testing early and worked to stockpile personal protective equipment such as face masks.

Jackson County has one of the lowest per capita COVID-19 infection rates.

“We want to thank the business and medical communities, our county staff and, most of all, our citizens for coming together to do our part in slowing the spread of COVID-19,” said Jackson County Commissioner Rick Dyer. “Without all of our efforts, we would not be able to take this first step to reopening our economy.”

During the phase one reopening that starts Friday, restaurants that have been limited to takeout only can resume sit-down dining. Groups are limited to 10 people or fewer, and groups or individuals who come alone must be seated at least six feet from other tables or booths.

Restaurant employees have to wear face coverings, and food and drink consumption must end by 10 p.m.

Shuttered hair salons, barber shops and other personal services businesses must see customers by appointment only and ask them if they are experiencing any cold or flu-like symptoms or been exposed to anyone with COVID-like symptoms. Customers with symptoms or exposure will be rescheduled when they are feeling better.

Those businesses must keep records of customers who visit so they can be contacted later if they are exposed to someone with COVID-19. Employees must wear face coverings.

Gyms that had to close must ramp up cleaning measures, keep showers and pools closed, maintain six feet of space between people and exercise stations, and set limits on the maximum number of people in the whole facility plus individual workout rooms.

Contact sports such as basketball, racquetball, wrestling and martial arts are still banned. Drop-in child care is not allowed at gyms.

Gatherings of up to 25 people for any reason can resume with six feet of physical distancing.

Details about phase one reopening, including specific health and safety rules for businesses, are available at govstatus.egov.com/or-covid-19.

The rules were updated Thursday morning, so any businesses that looked at prior guidelines should visit the website again.

Brown said she knows some people will think phase one reopening doesn’t go far enough, while others will say the state is moving too quickly.

“Reopening any part of our state comes with risk,” she said.

Some changes apply statewide, regardless of whether a county was granted permission to reopen.

All retailers, including those that were mandated to close, can reopen statewide Friday as long as they can implement new safety measures.

Malls can reopen in counties that won permission to enter phase one. They also have to keep people at least six feet apart.

Statewide on Friday, child care providers can begin taking care of the children of people returning to work. They have been limited to caring for the children of first responders, emergency workers, health care workers and other essential personnel working outside the home.

Workers who can work remotely should keep doing so.

Everyone should continue practicing physical distancing and wear a face covering in public, Brown said.

“Whether it’s a bandanna, a repurposed quilter’s fabric, or a dust mask found in the garage, we wear these face coverings because we are on the lookout for ourselves, our family and our neighbors,” she said.

Across the state, everyone is urged to avoid unnecessary travel outside their local communities.

Brown said law enforcement agencies have more important things to do than monitor people’s compliance with phase one rules. She won’t, for example, ask police to stop people traveling to the coast.

State officials have warned that agencies like the Oregon Occupational Safety and Health Administration can issue fines against businesses that don’t protect their workers and customers.

Brown said some scattered businesses around the state flouted closure rules, but the majority of businesses have cooperated to reduce the transmission of COVID-19 and save lives.

Vulnerable people, including senior citizens and people with underlying health problems, should continue to stay home as much as possible, Allen said.

UPDATE: This article was updated to showJefferson, Umatilla and Morrow counties were added Thursday afternoon to the list of counties that can reopen.

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

Dean Hendricks, owner of Auntie Carol's Hawaiian Cafe and Catering, prepares Thursday for phase one reopening. Hendricks says there will be outside seating and limited inside seating at his cafe starting Friday. Jamie Lusch / Mail Tribune