Local businesses should also have 'safe harbor'
Crook County enters 2021 with some unique advantages and some confounding dilemmas.
Starting with some good news, Gov. Kate Brown unexpectedly announced that the metrics that have governed when schools can open statewide will now be considered advisory in nature – not mandated. Of course, this probably had a lot less impact locally than it did elsewhere in the state. Thanks to relatively low COVID case numbers and the state extending the Safe Harbor program, schools in Crook County were already poised to stay open through January and likely beyond.
For those who aren't aware, the Safe Harbor designation basically puts the school closure decision in the hands of local health officials – the people who are closest to Crook County's COVID cases and where they have originated. It's a concept that should be utilized in other local sectors, but we'll get to that shortly.
While the Safe Harbor designation essentially guaranteed schools would continue in-person education – barring a school-generated outbreak – the recent decision to treat metrics as advisory adds another layer of security.
Interestingly, not everyone is pleased with the announcement. Other school districts across the state that have thus far held school online were caught flat-footed and now have to engage their local health officials and figure out if they are eligible to reopen their schools. And if they are, they have to figure out how to do it – quickly. School resumes on Jan. 4
But assuming school districts across the state figure things out, it should be a net positive with kids ultimately returning to class, which most educators agree is the best environment for learning.
What's striking about this state decision is how schools are given a level of local control that seemingly no other entity has received. Schools, because they are not seen as superspreaders, have been given a lot more latitude than local businesses like restaurants. Sure, schools have rigid rules in place that heighten health safety – temperature checks and cohorting, for example – but little if any data has been presented that suggests that restaurants or other small businesses are superspreaders either. Yet many of them are closed to the public.
Perhaps more frustrating, grocery stores and big box department stores get to stay open with the same mask mandate that was required of small businesses.
This has yet to be satisfactorily explained. Perhaps the state holds public education in higher esteem than local businesses? That would be troubling, but it's not a tough argument to make. Why couldn't the same local health officials who track COVID cases determine whether restaurants and other small businesses should be open to the public? Is there something we all are missing?
A new mayor coalition has formed with a goal to address this issue. Its impact remains to be seen, but ideally pressure from community leaders will prompt the state to at least revisit its mandates and consider local control for more than just the schools.
Eventually – hopefully – with multiple COVID vaccines now in circulation, these issues will only last a few more months. The future, for the first time in a long time, looks promising. But until the pandemic truly ends, Crook County businesses will be saddled with whatever rules the state creates. Hopefully, as 2021 begins, the state changes those rules enough to give businesses a chance to survive and to succeed.
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