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Restaurant owners react to the latest round of 'extreme' measures

Punky's Diner in Medford is seen. The restaurant will be forced to close its indoor dining on Friday after 15 counties in the 'extreme risk' category. (Ambar Rodriguez/News 10)

SOUTHERN OREGON, Ore. — As another round of ‘extreme’ COVID-19 restrictions is set to go into effect on Friday, some local restaurant owners say their businesses may not survive the latest round.

On Friday, hundreds of restaurants in 15 counties across the state will be prohibited from hosting indoor dining after Oregon Gov. Kate Brown announced a surge in COVID-19 cases.

"It’s frustrating when we see a lot of inconsistencies in the rules where specifically the governor is now allowing in-person full contact indoor sports, kids are going back to school which would, in theory, increase transmission, then at the same time turn around and lockdown restaurants again,” Eric Johnsen, the owner of Rogue Organic Café said.

Some restaurant owners have expressed that they feel the move by the governor is unfair.

"It’s just about to put us under because have barely reached the point where we were catching up from the last shut down," James Ronda, the co-owner of Punky’s Diner said.

On Tuesday when Gov. Brown announced the latest COVID restrictions, she also announced an update to the COVID metrics.

“In an effort to speed up the return to normal business operations, county COVID-19 data will be evaluated weekly for at least the next three weeks.”

David Thomason, the owner of Thomason Hospitality Group explained the change does not help because of the planning it takes to run a restaurant.

"It’s impossible to operate a restaurant with an on again off again let alone now where it can be one week," Thomason said.

He shared the latest round of restrictions comes during an already challenging time for the industry.

"We were having difficulty finding employees even to staff the diner to 25%, it is very difficult, anyway we finally got staffed, we just hired our last person the day before yesterday and now here we are, it's not good," Ronda said.

Brown said she is working to financially help the businesses survive, Thomason said it isn’t enough.

"It just barely scratches the surface of the damage that’s been done to our industry, and to our suffering restaurants, there have been over a thousand restaurants that have closed permanently in the state of Oregon since this pandemic started," Thomason said.

All three restaurant owners shared the same frustrations as Chris Dennett, the owner of Elements Tapas.

"The claim is that indoor dining needs to be shuttered because COVID-19 infection numbers are at levels seen in January. At that point, we had already been shuttered for two months. When it comes to the numbers of COVID-19 and indoor dining in Oregon, there is no causality, and in fact, they don't even correlate," Dennett said.