Limited outdoor dining will be back on the menu for most counties when the statewide two-week “freeze” period expires on Dec. 2, according to a new county-by-county system for coronavirus restrictions and safety protocols Oregon Governor Kate Brown unveiled at a press conference Wednesday.
This new framework, essentially a modified version of the governor’s phased approach to reopening this summer, will loosen restrictions for at least 15 Oregon counties that aren’t experiencing the kind of surge in Covid-19 seen in other regions — while leaving the strictest boundaries on 21 counties — including Clackamas.
With Covid-19 cases and hospitalizations at an all-time high in her state, Governor Brown urged Oregonians to keep their Thanksgiving gatherings small and use precautions to protect themselves and loved ones from the spread of the virus.
“Unfortunately, now more than ever is the time we must double down on our efforts to stop Covid from spreading,” Governor Brown said. “Our situation is extremely dire. Our hospitals are stretched thin, and people are dying.”
The state reported 8,687 new cases during the week ending Sunday, Nov. 22 — a 34% increase over the previous record-high week. Weekly hospitalizations from Covid-19 rose to 366, a 26% increase and the highest yet reported in the pandemic.
There were also 61 reported Covid-related deaths, nearly doubling the previous week’s total of 31.
On Monday, following the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, state health officials will look at coronavirus data by county and assign a risk level to each: extreme risk, high risk, moderate risk and lower risk.
Each level will have corresponding health and safety measures to follow. The state will reassess county risk levels weekly, but the measures will not change until a county has spent at least two weeks at a new risk level.
“The hard reality is this there is no normal while the virus rages unchecked and the touchpoints of daily life,” Patrick Allen, director of the Oregon Health Authority, said Wednesday. “Going shopping, having dinner out with your friends, working out could make you sick.”
Safety protocols at the “extreme risk” level mirror many of the restrictions Clackamas County saw — briefly — during the governor’s “two-week pause” that actually lasted only a couple of days before the “freeze” set in.
Social and at-home gatherings with people from outside your household will be limited to a maximum of six people, with a recommended limit of two households. Restaurants and bars will be limited to a maximum of 50 people for outdoor dining only, with only six allowed per table. Take-out is strongly encouraged.
According to state epidemiologist Dean Sidelinger, “outdoor dining” does not include a fully enclosed tent, which he said would carry as high a risk of infection as dining indoors. A covered dining area would be permitted but should be open on at least three sides.
“If you need to go out, the option for limited outdoor seating is available,” Dr. Sidelinger said. “But know that it doesn’t come without risk. We assessed [that risk] versus the benefits to our emotional state, our mental health, and the economy.”
Gyms and other indoor recreation and entertainment establishments will remain closed in “extreme risk” areas, though such activities can resume outdoors, with a maximum limit of 50 people.
Retail stores, grocery stores, pharmacies, and indoor and outdoor shopping centers and malls will be limited to a maximum of 50% of capacity, with curbside pick-up encouraged.
Faith institutions, funeral homes, mortuaries, and cemeteries will be limited to a maximum of 25% of capacity or 100 people indoors (whichever is smaller), or 150 people outdoors.
Personal services businesses will be allowed to continue to operate with health and safety measures in place. Long-term care facilities can allow limited outdoor visitation, following established health and safety protocols.
In a separate release Wednesday, Clackamas County officials said they plan to comply with the new risk-driven approach to reducing the spread of Covid-19.
As of Wednesday, Nov. 25, a total of 5,574 Clackamas County residents have contracted Covid-19 this year; 77 have died from the disease. County health officials warn the recent large weekly increases in new presumed cases is alarming.
“Last week – in just one week – we hit 811 cases,” after averaging only 200 per week in October, according to Clackamas County Public Health Director Philip Mason-Joyner. “We have more than tripled our number of county residents infected with Covid-19 in just a few weeks.”
State health officials said that until Covid-19 vaccines are widely available, health and safety precautions will remain in place so that schools, businesses, and communities can reopen, and stay open.
OHA expects to receive a limited supply of vaccines as early as next month, which will be reserved for health care workers and the most vulnerable Oregonians.
“There is no healthy economy while Covid-19 circulates widely,” said Allen, the OHA director. “A majority of Oregonians are very or somewhat worried about catching COVID-19. Even before the freeze, most Oregonians reported cutting back on public activities. A healthy community is necessary for a healthy economy.”
On Wednesday, Dr. David Zonies, the associate chief medical officer for Oregon Health & Science University, said OHSU has seen Covid-19 hospitalizations rise “substantially” this month.
Dr. Zonies said he has had some intensive care patients tell him they didn’t believe Covid-19 was real or didn’t think it was “that bad.”
“Every time, without failure, they say ‘I really wish I had taken it more seriously,'” he said.
He urged Oregonians to stay home for the holidays this year, as the state and nation endures an unprecedented and worrying surge in new cases, and hospitals like OHSU are already creeping toward capacity.
“I want to ask for your sacrifice to make sure that we’re able to provide the care for people that need it,” Dr. Zonies said. “Please hold out just a little longer. … Please be a patriot.”