Hood River County was approved to enter Phase 2 of reopening, effective Friday, June 19.
Gov. Kate Brown confirmed the application’s approval a June 17 letter to the Hood River County Board of Commissioners, thanking the board for “all of (their) hard work and vigilance on behalf of all Oregonians.”
She additionally said that the Oregon Health Authority (OHA) would “soon be issuing guidance requiring the wearing of face coverings for all individuals in indoor public settings in Hood River County,” such as grocery stores, restaurants, retail stores, personal service providers, ride sharing services, and others. Brown added that the guidance would be a mandate, going into effect Wednesday, June 24.
This mandate will also be effective in Multnomah, Washington, Clackamas, Marion, Polk and Lincoln counties. The mandate doesn’t apply to children under 12-years-old, or to people with a disability or medical condition that prevents them from wearing a mask.
Masks are not required in restaurants, bars, breweries, brewpubs, wineries, tasting room and distilleries while eating or drinking; and they’re not required when engaged in an activity that makes wearing a mask “not feasible,” such as “strenuous physical exercise, singing or playing an instrument if at least six feet of distance is maintained from others.”
Under the mandate, businesses are required to post clear signs about the mask requirements and provide masks to employees, volunteers and contractors. They aren’t required to provide free disposable masks to customers or visitors, but are highly encouraged to do so.
The Hood River County Board of Commissioners voted 3-2 on June 8 to submit the county’s Phase 2 application to the State of Oregon, with a requested Phase 2 entry date of June 12. But on June 11, Gov. Brown announced a one-week “statewide yellow-light” on all pending applications, which, at the time of the “pause,” were Phase 2 applications from Hood River, Polk and Marion counties, and a Phase 1 application from Multnomah County. All four of these pending applications have since been approved.
“I instituted the statewide pause because of the rising number of cases in both rural and urban communities. I did this to give public health experts time to assess what factors are driving the spread of the virus and make adjustments to our reopening strategy,” said Brown in an official statement issued Thursday, June 18.
Hood River County has seen an increase in new cases over the last couple of weeks and is managing several simultaneous workplace outbreaks. Most recently, a group of visitors to Cascade Locks tested positive for COVID-19; Hood River County stated that “at this time, it appears that risk of exposure is minimal to the community.”
According to OHA data released June 18, Hood River County has had 76 positive test results out of 1,987 tests conducted — which equates to 4 percent of tests coming back positive.
Explaining her decision to approve Hood River, Marion and Polk counties for Phase 2, Brown stated, “Marion and Polk Counties are seeing a decline in hospitalizations, and Hood River has had only one new hospital admission in the past two weeks. All three counties have implemented timely follow up on cases in the past week.”
In Phase 2, gathering limits raise to 50 people indoors, and 100 people outdoors. Under Phase 1, the numbers were 25 and 50.
Venues hosting “social, civic, and faith-based gatherings” such as churches and theaters, can host up to 250 people, provided they have the space to create six feet of physical distancing between groups.
In addition to the activities allowed under Phase 1, Phase 2 allows “higher risk” activities to resume, such as recreational sports. Bowling alleys and arcades are allowed to reopen, some additional in-office work is permitted, and bars and restaurants able to stay open until midnight. Bars and restaurants can stay open until midnight. Under Phase 1, they had to close by 10 p.m.
“The next few weeks will be difficult, and we will be monitoring the data regularly,” said Brown. “We are much better prepared than we were in early March. We have increased PPE, much more widespread testing, and many more contact tracers. However, if hospitalizations spike too rapidly, if the capacity of our health care system is threatened, we will be forced to revert to stricter rules.”
Brown encouraged Oregonians to continue following OHA safety protocols and social distancing guidelines.
“Our entire ability to reopen and stay open is dependent on whether each of us follows basic health and safety protections,” she said. “Stay home if you feel sick, wear a face covering, keep six feet of distance, avoid crowds, and wash your hands regularly. We truly are all in this together.”