Wasco, Sherman and Gilliam counties are among the 31 Oregon counties approved for Phase 1 reopening starting May 15.

Reopening plans for each of the three counties were developed in collaboration with the tri-county health department, North Central Public Health District (NCPHD). To be considered for reopening, counties had to demonstrate that hospital admissions for COVID-19 had declined in the last 14 days, and that they met a list of standards set by the Oregon Health Authority, including a minimum testing regiment in place, a contact tracing system, adequate isolation facilities for those who can’t self-isolate and finalized business sector guidelines. Counties also had to demonstrate that their region had adequate testing and sufficient healthcare capacity to accommodate a 20 percent increase in hospitalization and sufficient personal protective equipment supplies —  a 30-day supply for large facilities, 14-day supply for smaller ones.

As of press time, Wasco County had 16 confirmed cases of COVID-19, Sherman County had one case, and Gilliam had zero.

“As you know, Gilliam County remains one of only three Oregon counties without a confirmed COVID-19 case,” said Gilliam County Judge Elizabeth Farrar in a letter to Gov. Brown, included in Gilliam County’s submitted reopening plan. “In the face of this pandemic, our citizens have demonstrated incredible resiliency, creativity, compassion, and, above all, an unwavering commitment to protecting the health and safety of our neighbors and the most vulnerable among us. I am proud of their response and confident these same ideals will guide Gilliam County safely and successfully through this next phase of recovery.”

This first phase of reopening allows gyms/fitness centers and personal care services such as barber shops and massage parlors to reopen, and for restaurants and bars to resume dine-in services — with the enforcement of health safety guidelines and specific social-distancing criteria. Local gatherings up to 25 people are also allowed. The next step will be to see if the loosened restrictions leads to a spike in COVID-19 cases: In three weeks, each county’s infection statistics will be reviewed, and — if cases have not spiked — counties would be eligible in June or early July to move on to less restrictive Phase 2 restrictions, which have yet to be detailed in full.  If there is an increase in infections, Gov. Kate Brown said that restrictions will be reinstated, but has not stated how they would be reimposed or reinforced.  However, she declined to say how the restrictions would be imposed and enforced.

Gary A. Warner, writing for the Oregon Capital Bureau, contributed to this report.

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