State relaxes COVID gathring rules
Announcement last week from Oregon Health Authority and Gov. Kate Brown could significantly affect the future of local spring and summer events.
Brown announced new outdoor recreation and entertainment gathering guidelines for each COVID risk category. Counties in the "lower" risk group, such as Crook County, are now allowed up to 50% capacity in venues regardless of size. The guideline had previously included a maximum attendance of 300 people. Counties in the "moderate" category are allowed 25% capacity, and the "high" category allows for 15% capacity. Counites in the "extreme" category are still subject to a numerical capacity of 50 people.
Because the changes happened so recently, no concrete plans have emerged for events like Crook County High School graduation – which is typically held at Ward Rhoden Stadium – or outdoor events held at the Crook County Fairgrounds including the Crooked River Roundup rodeo and horse races and the County Fair.
"The health department is working closely with the fair and Roundup boards to support their upcoming events," County Emergency Preparedness Coordinator Vicky Ryan, "and our school liaison is continuing to work closely with the schools on all things school guidance."
Ryan acknowledged that the lower risk level does allow for more open events outdoors, and even indoors, as long as social distancing and other health guidance is followed, such as mask wearing.
"The planning for these events is under way now, because it takes so long to plan out all the logistics of any big event, Ryan added. "They are all in regular communication with the health department with questions as they go."
Regarding the 2021 Roundup, Board President Jason Snider said they submitted a plan to the health department two weeks ago, which the agency approved, giving the rodeo and races the green light to move forward.
He went on to note that the plan had already enabled roughly 50% capacity for the rodeo and races, however that number would be comprised of multiple segregated groups of people in different viewing areas. With the change in gathering rules, it may not be necessary to create so many individual spaces.
"It was going to cost twice as much to build the ground to accommodate (the rules)," he remarked.
The Roundup Board is still finalizing its plans regarding attendance, ticket distribution and other factors, but Snider can now say for certain that the Roundup is moving forward in 2021.
The Crook County Fair, held in early August, was one of the few summer events to take place in 2020, but only a small amount of the fair took place on the fairgrounds. This year, most if not all of the fair should once again take place at its usual location.
"We are in the middle of trying to decipher what we can and cannot do," said Fairgrounds Manager Casey Daly, adding that one of the bigger challenges is finding a way to blend the new outdoor rules with the more restrictive indoor guidelines. Several fair events, including exhibit and livestock viewing and the livestock auction, have traditionally taken place indoors.
Meanwhile, the news has sparked a surge of interest in the fairgrounds from numerous groups who would like to book the fairgrounds for different outdoor events.
"It is a big deal," Daly said. "We are pretty excited."
In addition to the change in outdoor gathering rules, Oregon Health Authority Director Patrick Allen announced Wednesday that it will be opening vaccine eligibility to all Oregonians 16 and older by May 1. The change is in line with President Joe Biden's recently announced plan to make all adults throughout the country eligible by that date.
"Oregon expects to get more COVID-19 doses from the federal government in the coming weeks," Allen stated. "The state will continue to make equity the center of our vaccine distribution efforts, ensuring that seniors, people with underlying conditions, frontline workers, and the Oregonians most vulnerable to COVID-19 have the opportunity for vaccinations as soon as possible."
Crook County health officials are still waiting for official written guidance about the new eligibility plans, Ryan said, but once they get it, they will plan accordingly.
"All vaccination administration in Crook County relies on our receiving our weekly allocations," she said. "If we receive larger shipments, we will increase the number of weekly appointments at the public clinics on Tuesdays."
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