PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Oregon Governor Kate Brown announced Tuesday that 15 counties will return to the “High Risk” category starting Friday — meaning indoor dining, gyms, and movie theaters can resume business once again.
This news came exactly one week after restaurants were told they had to shut down. Although they will be limited to 25% capacity, this is welcome news for restaurants in those 15 counties — especially with Mother’s Day around the corner.
Mother’s Day is the busiest day of the year for restaurants, according to the Oregon Restaurant and Lodging Association. They say many will have to place last-minute supply orders and re-arrange staffing plans. Some restaurants have told KOIN 6 that with this announcement, they will be able to rehire a few people immediately.
David Louie runs Huber’s Café on Southwest Third Avenue in Portland — the city’s oldest restaurant and bar. He tells us he wasn’t expecting the governor’s announcement, but it’s welcome news.
Louie says his restaurant should have a steady crowd for Mother’s Day and isn’t too worried about the last preparations.
“It’s a steady day, it’s not like some restaurants that just have a line out the door,” he said. “It’s just a nice steady day — it’s a good day, definitely.”
Louie says Huber’s wouldn’t have been able to survive the pandemic without receiving a significant amount of Paycheck Protection Program money from the federal government. In a press conference on Friday, Gov. Brown said $20 million in relief funds is now available for businesses impacted by the restrictions.
“Economic relief is something I can do as your governor to help Oregonians impacted by this fourth surge,” she said.
‘Drastic’ hits to profits
Before the pandemic, Kells would have been packed most nights. Now it’s totally empty because no inside dining is allowed until Friday.
Kells owner Garrett McAleese said they have constantly had to readjust to the COVID changes coming from Gov. Kate Brown’s office. The hit to their profits has been “drastic,” he said. But, despite that, he understands why there have been restrictions.
“Obviously we’re excited. But we understood. We’re trying to just do whatever the state says we can. If us closing down this last week saved a couple lives, that’s amazing,” McAleese told KOIN 6 News. “So, either way, we’re happy to do whatever, but we’re happy to get open and back open in business because it’s definitely been a roller coaster ride.”
Before the return to High Risk was announced, ORLA and more than 80 county commissioners wrote a letter to the governor, asking her to reconsider the state’s approach to virus mitigation. They say the virus is taking a grave toll on local economies.
The governor then made the switch after finding that state metrics show Oregon’s seven-day average increase for hospitalized COVID patients has dropped below 15% — so the state no longer qualifies for Extreme Risk restrictions. About half of the state’s population has received one vaccine dose and just 30% are fully vaccinated. Counties outside of the Portland metro area have seen a drop in vaccine demand.
Now with indoor dining resuming, ORLA officials say their focus now shifts to supporting efforts for relaxing restrictions, along with finding solutions for lodging and restaurant employers still struggling to get their employees back on the schedule,”
“The workforce shortage crisis is the challenge of our day outside government restrictions and it’s a national crisis,” said Jason Brandt, president and CEO of ORLA. “We look forward to working with our national partners on legislation to turn extended unemployment benefits through September into upfront cash bonuses to accelerate the industry’s recovery.”
Brandt also urged the public to do their part by getting vaccinated.
“Now that everyone older than 16 is eligible, help us move away from future government restrictions by getting vaccinated,” he said. “And please continue to support local restaurants this Mother’s Day by celebrating at your mom’s favorite place.”
Brown recently expressed some optimism, saying that if the pace of vaccinations continues, she plans to lift restrictions by the end of June.
“Cases will fall and vaccine levels will be high enough that with basic preventive measure the virus cannot grow,” Dr. Peter Graven, Lead Data Scientist, Business Intelligence unit, Oregon Health & Science University said.