Lane County residents woke up Thursday morning to find the county could start Phase 1 of reopening its economy. Starting tomorrow — Friday, May 15 — businesses such as bars, malls, restaurants and salons can open up if they can meet certain strict restrictions. If Lane County keeps its COVID-19 numbers down, in three weeks it can apply to enter the next phase of opening the economy.
At Gov. Kate Brown’s morning press conference, she formally announced that 28 Oregon counties have been approved to start the first phase of reopening, adding that the process is like walking on thin ice. But until there’s a vaccine for COVID-19, she said Oregon — and the rest of the world — won’t go back to life before the pandemic.
“If there is a significant spike in cases in a community, a spike that cannot be addressed and contained via contact tracing or through quarantine, we may have to reimplement we may need to put the stay-at-home order back to contain the virus,” she said. “We need to step carefully and cautiously.”
In her opening remarks, Brown addressed the differing groups Oregonians who think it’s either too early to start reopening or it’s time to open the state more. She said that job loss impacts an individual’s physical and mental health and a strong economy is an important element of public health.
“I’ve been in this job long enough to know that I’m not here to make everyone happy,” she said. “If I tried to please everyone, well, nothing would get done.” Adding that she was focused instead on the health and safety of Oregonians.
Brown said that two counties were not approved to start reopening: Marion and Polk. She said that the Oregon Health Authority will check in on those counties on a weekly basis. The counties were denied because of the many recent hospitalizations of COVID-19 patients and a high percentage of cases that can’t be traced. Jefferson, Morrow and Umatilla counties are still under review. The Portland-area counties of Multnomah, Washington and Clackamas did not apply.
Brown said experts at OHA reviewed each application to open. Criteria used to decide whether counties would be approved to reopen included seeing a decline in COVID-19-like hospitalizations, a 14-day decline in hospital admissions, the ability to test enough people in each region, contact tracing to notify 95 percent of people who may have been in contact with the virus and more.
One of the more high profile complaints about the economic shutdown was an inability for people to get their hair cut, and Brown said she is aware of Oregonians’ need to “get their hair done.” But she said residents in counties shouldn’t venture out of the Portland area to counties that are open for a haircut. But later in the press conference, she said she won’t ask the police to stop people from driving to the Oregon coast — which Portland-area residents have become notorious for after city-dwellers took over beach towns over spring break.
Dr. Dean Sidelinger, health officer and epidemiologist at OHA, said hairdressers and barbers will keep track of their clients and ask them how they feel. If clients are sick or showing symptoms, they shouldn’t get a haircut. They could use a thermometer on clients, but the state isn’t requiring that method. Clients must set an appointment, too.
“We ask the owner or the person you’re going to see screen you and ask you questions about how you’re feeling,” he said.
In counties that are starting to reopen, individuals can have gatherings of up to 25 people.
Bars and restaurants can also open up for sit-down service. Those venues must limit parties up to 10 people at a time have a six-foot distance between customers and close by 10 pm.
If a gym decides to open, in addition to ensuring there’s a social distancing between exercisers, it must keep showers and pools closed.
Among other prerequisites for the next phase, Lane County says in a press release that it must demonstrate a decrease of COVID-19 cases for at least 14 days, enough PPE for health care workers and first responders, sufficient contact tracing resources and capacity to track the virus.
As of Thursday, May 14, Lane County has tested 60 positive cases and two suspected deaths. Over the past week, the county has seen a total of three positive tests.
Phase 2 of reopening could include more people working in offices, visits to senior homes and gatherings of up to 100 people, according to the governor’s webpage on COVID-19.