Crook County has once again been relegated to the extreme risk category. New COVID case numbers surged to triple digits during a recent two-week span, and that spike combined with a statewide increase in COVID-related hospitalizations prompted the governor to change the community's status and once again prohibit indoor dining and limit other business operations.
The move was not well received by some state organizations, and local elected leaders publicly pushed back against the latest shutdown. The Crook County Court wrote a letter to the governor criticizing the back-and-forth nature of the business restrictions, and Prineville Mayor Jason Beebe didn't outright tell local businesses to defy the rules but said he would continue to support those that did. Meanwhile, the National Federation of Independent Business/Oregon (NFIB) is asking why businesses that have done all that is asked of them are getting penalized when the case increases are primarily linked to private social gatherings. It's a good question lacking a good answer.
Clearly, something needs to be done in Crook County to get the COVID case totals back in check. The fact that the community has gone from two-week stretches with fewer than 30 cases to two weeks at 107 is alarming. It is the second-sharpest increase among Oregon counties in April.
But if the spikes in COVID, in the past and currently, are primarily due to private social gatherings, it's hard to imagine how the mandates associated with the extreme risk category will help. Businesses are not the origin of any outbreaks, yet those businesses that require masks and social distancing are going to face restrictions? Would these same decisionmakers put a bandage on someone's elbow when their foot is bleeding?
The problem, it seems, is that the state can't legislate the behavior of people in their private homes. If someone throws a get-together and someone shows up sick and it spreads to other people, there really isn't anything the state can do to stop it.
In its statement against the latest move to extreme risk, NFIB suggested that the approach "may be effective in grabbing headlines, thereby raising public awareness that the state's authority to fight the virus hasn't ended yet, but it does so by unfairly punishing the small-business owners, and their employees, who have already been most severely impacted by the negative economic effects of the pandemic." It's tough to argue against that view.
Again, something needs to be done about the rising COVID numbers. Crook County's case numbers should not be tripling in less than a month. Health officials urge us to not let our guard down now – and people should heed their warning. Don't ditch the masks and social distancing just yet. As the past few weeks have shown, this pandemic isn't quite over.
At the same time, the governor and state health officials should attack the latest wave in a way that addresses the source of the problem. Businesses aren't to blame. Treating them like they are is, in a word, extreme.
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