Gov. Brown's Restaurant Strategy is Working
State officials have not received enough credit for Oregon's success in flattening the COVID-19 infection curve. While states like Texas and Florida are grappling with overwhelmed emergency departments and exponentially increasing case counts, the Oregon Health Authority reports that Oregon's COVID-related hospital utilization rate currently sits at a low 4.4%.
It is notable that this success in combating COVID-19 has continued through a phased reopening plan that allows dining establishments and some bars to operate under a set of stringent public health guidelines. The guidelines include common sense measures like reduced limits on capacity, requirements for staff to use PPE and mandated social distancing within dining rooms.
One of the reasons these measures appear to be working is that they have been fully embraced by the restaurant industry. According to the Oregon Liquor Control Commission and OHA, more than 95% of industry operators are complying with all OHA guidance. Anyone who has recently visited a restaurant in Oregon can see obvious changes, like tables spread far apart, servers wearing masks, hand sanitizer bottles on tables and increased outdoor dining options.
It shouldn't surprise us that restaurants were well-prepared to deal with the public health aspects of this crisis. The industry is highly regulated when it comes to sanitization and disease prevention. Food service professionals are well-trained and experienced in protecting public health as a basic function of their jobs. And restaurant owners know that customers will only come to dine if they feel safe doing so.
Since Oregon began a phased reopening in May, there have been no significant community outbreaks of COVID linked to restaurants. Rather, the outbreaks identified by OHA appear to be mainly occurring in or around workplaces and congregate residential care facilities. After two months of partially re-opened restaurants, we should consider the absence of outbreak evidence that Gov. Brown's plan has worked.
As we have watched COVID ravage some parts of the country over the last several weeks, a few voices have called for Gov. Brown to retreat from her reopening plan and reinstitute restaurant closures. These calls are grounded in fear, ignoring the substantial evidence before us that a simple precautionary regimen has allowed Oregonians to enjoy the occasional evening out without any substantial impact on our state's progress in battling the pandemic.
We need to also the consider the danger to Oregon families posed by these calls for Gov. Brown to abandon her reopening strategy. Restaurant jobs support hundreds of thousands of households in Oregon, and most of those jobs were lost during the initial shutdown. Workers at the time were protected by additional federal unemployment benefits, but those benefits have expired. Many restaurants were able to maintain or bring back their employees with the assistance of PPP loans, but those loans only lasted for two months. Without any federal assistance to rely on, a misguided and unnecessary shutdown would be dire for low and middle-income Oregon families.
It is time for us to give credit to Gov. Brown for leading our state in crisis. Her first shutdown order was painful and controversial, but in hindsight was the absolute correct thing to do. Oregon succeeded in flattening the curve. Her reopening plan was based on public health guidance, not politics, and it too has worked to allow some businesses to safely reopen. And her leadership on mask-wearing continues to remind Oregonians that there are ways for us to mitigate risk while continuing to have a life outside of our homes.
When it comes to Oregon's reopening strategy, Gov. Brown should stay the course.
Joe Buck owns Babica Hen Cafe and Gubanc's Restaurant. He served four years on the Lake Oswego City Council.
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