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Counties object to tougher COVID-19 restrictions

80 county commissioners from around state sign on to letter

Jackson County commissioners have joined 77 other county commissioners from around the state in objecting to COVID-19 restrictions enacted in the wake of a spike in COVID-19 cases.

The Oregon Restaurant & Lodging Association joined the commissioners in signing on to a letter asking Gov. Kate Brown to reconsider the state’s approach to mitigating virus risks.

Brown announced this week that 15 counties, including Jackson County, will return Friday to the extreme risk category, which brings a ban on indoor dining in restaurants, among other restrictions.

The move came after the number of COVID-19-positive patients in hospitals topped 300 statewide. The 15 counties are experiencing a surge in COVID-19 cases, but they had enjoyed a reprieve from the state’s most restrictive regulations while hospitalization numbers stayed below 300 in Oregon.

"We have reached the point where the vast majority of Oregon’s population most prone to serious illness has been successfully protected from the virus,“ county commissioners and the hospitality association said in the letter. ”And we must all admit a documented case today does not carry with it the same weight as a documented case in the fall when so many ... Oregonians lacked access to vaccine. The variants are indeed troublesome, and we share your concern for their spread. But shutting down our restaurants and further depriving Oregonians of their right to make calculated community engagement risks when the virus continues to spread elsewhere will not result in success.“

The letter said the virus is continuing to take a grave toll on local economies, including restaurants.

Commissioners and the restaurant lobby said the time has come to allow communities to move forward. They said businesses have proven they can follow expectations about sanitation, air quality and other measures to keep people safe without facing shutdowns.

“We ask for your support in putting all effort and momentum into vaccinations,” the letter said. “We have the safety guidelines and expectations clearly outlined for all industry sectors and have reached a point where those safety measures, alongside our work to achieve vaccination goals, can carry us through the other side of this pandemic without breaking our statewide hospital capacity.”

Hospitals in Jackson and Josephine counties said this week they are not currently strained by COVID-19 patients.

The bulk of hospitalizations are occurring in the Portland and Salem areas. Among different regions of the state, Central Oregon is closest to hitting its capacity on hospital beds, especially in intensive care units, Oregon Health Authority data show.

The letter said the business restrictions are divisive. “You must know restrictions on specific types of businesses compared to others within our local communities is creating rifts and dividing people rather than bringing Oregonians together. We can flip the script by removing state-mandated business restrictions on our communities while empowering our county health departments to uphold high expectations for ongoing health and safety measures as recommended by the CDC,” the letter said.

Jackson County commissioners Rick Dyer, Colleen Roberts and Dave Dotterrer signed on to the letter.

They were joined by commissioners from Deschutes, Polk, Lake, Union, Clatsop, Crook, Baker, Hood River, Lane, Linn, Yamhill, Marion, Douglas, Coos, Klamath, Morrow, Umatilla, Harney, Washington, Clackamas, Jefferson, Columbia, Grant, Wasco, Columbia, Malheur, Jefferson and Harney counties.

They represent 30 of Oregon’s 36 counties. It’s not clear whether commissioners from all counties had time to sign o nto the letter.

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