PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Gov. Kate Brown introduced new guidelines to gradually reopen Oregon starting May 15 amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic Thursday morning. 

Among the highlights: Rural counties with smaller numbers of positive cases must meet requirements; large gatherings have been banned through the summer; requiring employees to wear face masks at businesses where social distancing is hard to keep.

“Thanks to millions of Oregonians following the strict physical distancing measures I’ve put in place, I am happy to say that these sacrifices have prevented as many as 70,000 COVID-19 infections and 1,500 hospitalizations in Oregon,” Brown announced. “We are on track in meeting the goals that doctors and public health experts have laid out for us — and that means we now have the opportunity to begin rebuilding a safe and strong Oregon.”

So far, non-essential medical procedures have resumed as of May 1 in Oregon, and Brown’s previously released framework for reopening the state included a phased approach requiring more testing and contact tracing; Oregon’s rural counties, which have seen a smaller number of cases compared to Multnomah, Marion, Clackamas and Washington counties, may have modified metrics to meet for reopening.

Kate Brown shows her face mask in a press conference on May 7, 2020.

She said the state hit a record low this past week, with less than 100 coronavirus-related hospitalizations.

The governor’s office released documents detailing the different phases counties must go through to gradually reopen. In those documents and in the press conference, Brown reiterated the main goals.

Those goals are as follows: 

  • Minimize hospitalizations and deaths
  • Allow people to safely return to work so they can support themselves and their families
  • Minimize risk to frontline workers
  • Avoid overwhelming health systems
  • Protect those at highest risk of severe illness, especially communities of color
  • Support for small local gatherings that preserve community cohesion and cultural practices

Find details on each phase for reopening further down in this article

However, Brown warns that reopening will not make the virus simply disappear. 

The governor explained residents will still be living with the virus until there is reliable treatment or prevention — which remains many months off — and that the primary tools the state has to combat the spread are physical distancing and hygiene. 

“Reopening any part of our state also comes with risk,” she said. “Until there is a vaccine, unfortunately, we will not be able to go back to life as we knew it.”

With every restriction we lift, transmission and cases will increase. Due to this reality, certain guidances will still need to be adhered to.

Oregon Health Authority Director Patrick Allen hammered down on that point in the press conference, saying that keeping Oregon safe and strong depends on all of us. He explained that we are not returning to “business as usual” and urges cooperation from Oregonians.

Watch the full press conference below:

“Oregonians prevented infections and saved lives by adhering to the governor’s stay home orders and the closure of schools and non-essential businesses,” he said. “Now we are on the cusp of re-opening. But that doesn’t mean COVID-19 has gone away. But, we can contain it if we take careful steps toward a safe, phased-in reopening, continue to practice social distancing and act responsibly toward others.”

Guidelines still in place include the mandate that vulnerable populations must still stay at home, limited visitation to nursing homes and hospitals are still in place, limited gatherings, limited travel, increased hygiene, cleaning & sanitation, staying home while sick and teleworking whenever possible.

Leaders around the nation have referred to these gradual reopening plans not as turning a light switch back on, but slowly turning a dimmer up. Brown’s plan is no exception. 

New guidelines will be enacted, in addition to the actions already in place.

There will be widespread testing under new protocols, immediate contact tracing and isolation, encouragement to wear face coverings when in public and the use of personal protective equipment when in close quarters.

There will be a statewide face mask policy. According to the governor’s office, it requires employees in certain businesses where physical distancing cannot be maintained to wear a mask or cloth material that covers the nose and mouth, including those working at:

  • Grocery stores
  • Pharmacies
  • Public transit
  • Salons/personal services
  • Ridesharing services

Furthermore, it is strongly recommended that businesses where employees are required to wear face coverings establish a mandatory face-covering policy for their customers as well.

Anyone that is in any indoor public space, especially where six feet of distance cannot be contained, is urged to wear a mask. 

Overall, there will be a total of three phases of reopening, not including the current phase we are in. The governor dove into what those entail in her press conference.

Phases for Reopening Oregon

Current Phase: Some updates

As of May 1, non-emergency procedures, medical & dental clinics were allowed to start at 50% (PPE dependent) capacity. 

On May 5, recreation where physical distancing can be followed were reopened. On May 15, stand-alone retail that was previously closed but can follow OSHA guidelines can reopen. This includes furniture stores, art galleries, jewelry shops and boutiques, along with childcare, summer school, camps and youth programs, all with specific limitations and guidelines.

By May 8, counties with low infection rates can submit applications to reopen by May 15.

Prerequisites to enter Phase I are as follows:

  • Declining COVID-19 prevalence by county
  • Minimum testing gegimen done by health region
  • Contact Tracing System done by county
  • Isolation Facilities done by county
  • Finalize statewide sector guidelines
  • Sufficient healthcare capacity for the respective health region
  • Sufficient PPE Supply for the respective health region

Phase I: Changes for specific types of employers

Brown announced that rural counties with very few cases who meet the prerequisites can enter Phase I beginning May 15th. She also said she will be prioritizing reopening childcare and summer camp programs and will release more guidance that applies statewide next week.

There will also be changes in guidelines for specific employers, found in the table beneath.

Once a county remains in Phase I for at least 21 days, they can potentially move on to Phase II. 

However, if a county shows an inability to meet contact tracing requirements, shows evidence of increasing prevalence of COVID-19 or evidence of increasing burden of severe COVID-19 as measured by new COVID-19 hospital admissions over 7 days — OHA will call a meeting with local public health officials for further evaluation.

Phase II: Higher risk activities

The goal of Phase II is to further expand gathering size, allow some office work and to begin to allow visitation to congregate care. 

The specifics of this phase are still being worked out and will be based on data from Phase I.

Phase III: Highest-risk activities that will require a reliable treatment or vaccine

Phase III concerns high-risk, large gatherings such as concerts, conventions, festivals and live audience sports. 

Brown reminds the public, however, that these gatherings will not be possible until a reliable treatment or prevention is available. Due to this, all large gatherings should be “canceled or significantly modified through at least September.”

Oregon’s festival season: ‘It’s going to be a tragedy’

More guidance will come as we get deeper into the year.

These new guidelines come over a month after Brown’s “Stay Home, Save Lives” executive order, issued March 23, shut down most non-essential businesses that could not comply with social distancing guidelines. The governor ordered a state of emergency on March 8; the state of emergency was recently extended through July 6.

The “Stay Home” order has been subject to protests by some Oregonians, although a survey in late April found a majority of residents believe that it will take months before feeling safe to do activities such as getting a haircut, dining in a restaurant or traveling in an airplane.

Nearly 3,000 Oregonians have tested positive for COVID-19, which has claimed 115 lives in the state.