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PORTLAND, Ore. (PORTLAND TRIBUNE) — Commissioners from 27 Oregon counties have signed onto a letter to Gov. Kate Brown asking her to loosen restrictions on restaurants.
“The time has come to allow our communities the opportunity to move forward while embracing continued health and safety precautions,” the letter reads in part.
The letter was sent Tuesday, April 27, by the Association of Oregon Counties and the Oregon Restaurant and Lodging Association.
The letter contends that as the populations most vulnerable to serious cases of COVID-19 have had time to get vaccinated, hospitality industries should be able to resume business.
More than 60% of Oregonians ages 65 and older are fully vaccinated.
The letter says that a new COVID-19 case reported today “does not carry with it the same weight as a documented case in the fall when so many of our fellow Oregonians lacked access to vaccine.”
The letter argues that the varying restrictions on different types of businesses “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,” it adds.
At the board of commissioners’ regular meeting on Wednesday, April 28, Columbia County Commissioner Casey Garrett said that he believes the restrictions on businesses are overdone, as vaccine access increases.
“I think we run the risk of people not taking it seriously at a certain point, if they feel like there’s mandates imposed that don’t make sense,” Garrett said.
Even people who have been taking the pandemic seriously may be frustrated by selective shutdowns, Garrett said.
“I hope this is a turning point where we figure out (how) to move on with life,” he added.
Commissioner Henry Heimuller said the frequent changes to restrictions are harming both business owners and workers, who may be moving from employed to laid off and back again and potentially not getting through the waiting week for unemployment benefits before they’re asked to come back to work.
Oregon was among the slowest states to process unemployment claims early in the pandemic, and those seeking benefits still report long delays and difficulties reaching anyone at the state employment department.
“I’m frustrated like everyone else, but it seems like sometimes short-sighted decisions like that are not being felt at the state level (but) impact all of us at the local level, day in and day out,” Heimuller said.
“It is no coincidence Oregon has not seen one instance of a super spreader event tied to our hospitality industry,” the letter asserts.
In fact, Oregon has seen outbreaks connected to restaurants, though the largest outbreaks have been at prisons, warehouses, assisted living facilities, churches and agricultural sites.
The state said last year that contact tracers were not asking people who tested positive for COVID-19 about any recent visits to restaurants.
Earlier this month, 16 cases of COVID-19 were reported at McDonald’s in St. Helens. The county also reported that several cases last month were linked to “recent gatherings and activities in North County,” but officials did not provide details.
Effective Friday, Columbia County will move from “high risk” to “extreme risk,” which will halt indoor dining and increase restrictions on other businesses.