COVID closure rules should be more consistent
It is shaping up to be an interesting year as the COVID-19 pandemic persists and Oregonians continue to adapt and readapt to the seemingly ever-changing rules that govern the state.
Government has long had a reputation of making head-scratching decisions that tend to please one side and infuriate another, and the rules shaped by responses to the pandemic are a terrific example of this.
Consider that when the coronavirus first made landfall in Oregon last February, the prevailing belief was that masks were not necessary. Washing your hands and social distancing were recommended. Then, we all were told to stay home and virtually everything from events to restaurants to businesses were closed to the public – except for take-out dining … oh, and grocery stores … and big box department stores.
First schools were closed. Then, late this past summer they were poised to reopen. Then, the governor tightened the metrics to such a degree that all but a handful of counties could have in-person education. And then those metrics were changed to let younger students attend full time. After that, the metrics were deemed advisory, not mandatory and schools reopened full time statewide for all grades.
We have gone from take-out only, to dine-in with mask and social distancing and back to take-out only – with that return to dine-in tied to some difficult-to-achieve metrics. Yet, those same dining establishments just got the green light to allow people inside their doors for … video lottery. Revenue from in-person dining goes to the business owners and lottery revenue? State government.
Meanwhile, we have been told that the biggest cause of COVID-19 spikes in communities is friends and family gatherings – not schools, not restaurants, not grocery stores. It seems that the state has acknowledged the lack of spread in schools and reopened them accordingly. Grocery stores are still open, as are the big box chain stores. Restaurants? Closed … and according to a coalition of mayors throughout Oregon, there has been no data provided to explain why they are different. Masks were still required, and dining parties were kept 6 feet apart – same as the stores. It's a model of inconsistency.
To be fair, the coronavirus is still relatively new, and scientists are learning more about it all the time. Changes in health guidelines are to be expected. It should also be noted that restaurants are the rare exception when it comes to masking up – you don't have to wear them once you are seated. And a CDC study has found that people who tested positive for COVID-19 were about twice as likely than those who tested negative to say they had dined at a restaurant within the past two weeks.
But that study, conducted back in September, was based on an interview with 314 people (more than 26 million people in the U.S. have tested positive thus far) and what isn't clear is whether similar data has been gathered at the state level or the local level. State and local health officials have been able to trace outbreaks back to private social gatherings – can they likewise be traced back to restaurants or other small businesses?
There are a lot of questions left to answer and some decisions that seem inconsistent with others or appear to lack sufficient data to back them. One of two things needs to happen – more data that explains the mandated closures or a change in the rules that provides a leveler playing field across Oregon communities.
The rules keep on changing. Hopefully, as we move forward in 2021, those rules will start to make more sense, not leave people scratching their heads.
You count on us to stay informed and we depend on you to fund our efforts. Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.