PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — It’s the unofficial start of summer. Memorial Day weekend would typically mean large gatherings of families and friends. But, with the COVID-19 pandemic, both health and government leaders are warning against people doing just that.
This weekend, folks were asked to observe the stay-at-home order, or, if they do go out, to stay local and socialize only with family from the same household.
But, why, when we’ve got fewer cases of the virus compared to many other states?
In Deschutes County, 22 new cases of the coronavirus were reported within a week. More than 70% of those virus cases were traced to a recent exposure from someone with the virus who attended a multi-family gathering.
“When we’re having large gatherings, barbecues, large parties — it’s a significant risk-factor and a primary cause of what we’re seeing with these new cases,” said Morgan Emerson with the Deschutes County Health Department.
Deschutes County Health said about half of the new cases were in people under the age of 30 who were having contact with those outside their immediate families. That’s why health officials are warning people to keep this weekend’s gatherings to just those in the immediate family.
While grocery stores were busy on Friday at the start of this holiday weekend, several shoppers had plans that were different from last year.
“We’re just going to stay home,” said one man as he loaded groceries into his car.
“We’ll probably put out a flag — just to commemorate, for people walking by,” said another woman.
Local law enforcement said officers will respond to calls if there is a serious issue with crowds and social distancing, but they are hoping people will do the right thing. If your plans include going to a nearby park, make sure you distance yourself from others and wear a face covering when near people.
‘We are hoping they don’t inundate us’
AAA said a record-low number of Americans are expected to travel for the holiday weekend but some towns known for being popular with tourists are worried about a potential surge in visitors. Mayors of towns up and down the Oregon Coast and in the Columbia Gorge are concerned an influx would force them to shut down again—just as they were trying to reopen.
“We are hoping they don’t inundate us,” said Hood River Mayor Kate McBride.
McBride said large public parks, hotels, motels and short-term rentals are still closed in Hood River.
“We feel like we are trying to ensure the safety of our citizens that live here,” she said.
Many regional leaders believe Phase 1 of Oregon’s reopening plan is designed more for the benefit of residents than visitors. They’re asking people to follow Gov. Kate Brown’s recommendations to stay close to home for Memorial Day weekend.
The mayor of Astoria said the town is trying to make it out of Phase 1 before rolling out the welcome mat.
“I think people will have a temptation to want to travel but I would remind them that the governor’s prohibition on non-essential travel is still in effect and will remain in effect until Phase 2,” Jones said. “We’ve only had 42 positive cases in our county—no hospitalizations. We want to keep it that way.”
Portland residents Holly and Jim Bier told KOIN 6 News they’ll be sticking close to home and plan on riding their bikes.
“I have no idea what to do,” said Jim Bier. “It’s kind of confusing.”
“We’re also not sure if anything’s open and, if they are, what they are,” said Holly Bier.
Others have fallen into the quarantine routine and forgotten all about the upcoming holiday weekend.
“My plans for this weekend—and the weekend before that and the weekend before that—which is to stay home and really just go outside to exercise,” said Portland State University student Annecy Bal. “It’s quarantining so it’s just going to be the same.”
While many are forgoing travel this weekend, Bal knows others will still hit the road regardless.
“It’s, I think, one of those things that we have been in quarantine for so long that people are now acting like it’s over,” Bal said. “We’ve just kind of hit our limit. It’s no longer fun. There is no longer anything to do inside. We’ve all learned finger painting and so it’s just time to get out—but it’s not.”