PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — After weeks of COVID-19 cases on the rise across Oregon, Governor Kate Brown announced a two-week pause on social activities and new restrictions in five counties, including Multnomah and Marion counties, during a Friday afternoon press conference.
Starting Wednesday, restaurants in these counties will have to decrease capacity, spurring a response from an industry spokesperson who said this move will be bad for business.
Jason Brandt, of the Oregon Restaurant and Lodging Association, said this two-week “pause” will not only hurt restaurant owners and staff, but also brought up the point that for many people, going out to eat is a form of therapy of sorts—a way to feel less isolated during the pandemic. He said going to out to restaurants can provide that mental reprieve that a lot of people need right now.
Under current restrictions, restaurants are allowed to house 100 people, and must have six feet of distance between tables, with no more than 10 people at a table. The new restrictions announced Friday bring those numbers down to a maximum of 50 people inside a restaurant—including staff—and tables of no more than six people.
“New restrictions like this, I mean, they feel like a shot right to the gut,” said Brandt.
He said the ORLA doesn’t think these limitations will help. The group wants the governor to put together an economic advisory council that he says would help her office understand the wide-spread economic impacts triggered by new regulations.
“We’ve actually provided some schematic for larger-footprint restaurant operations to the governor’s office to show them how we can safely distance groups outside of these 50 or 100-person caps,” said Brandt.
For weeks, health officials have been warning that rising case numbers are attributed to small, informal gatherings. State Health Officer Dr. Dean Sidelinger said, while it would be difficult to trace the spread to an individual restaurant, the cause for concern is legitimate.
“In a setting like a bar or a restaurant, when you’re indoors, you need to remove your face covering when you’re eating and drinking and so large numbers of people without face coverings in an enclosed space can lead to increased spread,” said Sidelinger.
Brandt thinks this decision might actually have the opposite impact.
“I’m just really concerned that this is going to direct people more to private settings where we don’t have those same in-control environments,” said Brandt.
Since May, at least 65 restaurants in the Metro area have permanently closed, according to the website PortlandFoodandDrink.com. Brandt said he’s thankful to the Oregon Health Authority and the governor for making the decision to start this on Wednesday, saying that gives restaurant owners time to prepare and make sure they don’t have a surplus of food that will spoil.