A plan to reopen Oregon's businesses and allow social gatherings will rely on a three-phase approach, with major decisions being made according to health conditions in each county.
On Thursday, May 7, Gov. Kate Brown and state health officials cautioned that current measures regarding physical distancing and hygiene likely will remain in place for months to come, as some retailers prepare to enter the first phase of reopening for in-person activities by Friday, May 15.
Statewide, standalone retail shops like boutiques, jewelry shops and furniture stores can reopen to customers on May 15, as long as they follow Oregon Health Authority guidelines for face coverings and physical distancing between customers. Prohibitions on daycare sites and some summer camps will also be lifted on May 15. State officials said childcare programs will still have to follow specific rules, and more information is expected from the governor's office next week.
In counties that are approved to roll out Phase 1 on May 15, bars and restaurants, gyms, salons, and parks, including skate parks, could be reopened, but physical distancing requirements would remain in place.
Brown's office said the goal with the phased reopening is to "minimize hospitalizations and deaths" and reduce risk to health care and frontline workers.
So far, Oregon has seen far fewer cases and fatalities from COVID-19 compared to other states and countries. The governor credited the stay-home orders and Oregonians' adherence to safety precautions with the state's infection rate.
"These sacrifices have prevented as many as 70,000 COVID-19 infections," Brown said. "We still don't have everything we need but things are definitely improving."
Brown likened the state's plans to testing out the ice on a frozen pond before going ice skating.
She and other health officials warned that "reopening still comes with risk."
"As we reopen parts of our economy, we know and expect that there may be an uptick in new coronavirus cases," Brown said Thursday.
Oregon's three-phase plan allows businesses, personal service providers and retailers to reopen on a conditional basis, with specific guidelines for each business sector. Returning to in-person activities will be dependent largely on the risk factor of each activity, as well as health conditions and the number of COVID-19 cases in each county and region across the state.
In all cases, state officials want residents to wear face masks when entering any business, with exceptions for eating and drinking.
Phase 1: As soon as Friday, May 15 in some areas
In counties approved to open during Phase 1, restaurants, bars, breweries, and wineries could allow patrons to dine on-site, so long as tables are six feet apart. Employees would need to wear face masks and coverings supplied by the business and all activity must end by 10 p.m.
Condiments must be offered in single serve packets or containers, or disinfected between each customer use.
Gyms and fitness centers could open, with limits on the number of occupants, to allow at least six feet between guests.
Salons, barber shops and other personal service providers also could reopen by appointment only. Salons and personal care providers are being asked to keep a log of every customer who visits, to allow for contract tracing by health departments if needed.
Retail stores, including shopping malls, are also included in Phase 1, but shop owners are encouraged to install plastic or glass barriers between cashiers and customers. Fitting rooms can be opened at the store's discretion, but customers shouldn't try on items worn around the face or neck.
Social gatherings of up to 25 people would also be allowed.
Parks, including skate parks, can reopen, with physical distancing observed, but contact sports are still prohibited.
OHA guidelines indicate groups of up to 10 people could attend a park together, but would need to keep space between them and other visitors. Those same guidelines encourage people to "recreate with their own household members rather than with those in their extended social circles."
A county could move on to Phase 2 after three weeks, only if they continue to meet the parameters of Phase 1.
Before entering Phase 1, a county would need to demonstrate a declining prevalence of COVID-19: that is, a steady drop in hospitalizations for 14 days, with emergency room visits for COVID-like illness being below what they typically are for influenza.
Specific guidelines for testing regimens and contract tracing systems, along with supplies of personal protective equipment and other health care capacity also are identified as prerequisites in the state plan.
Phase 2: Similar to Phase 1, with expanded gathering sizes
Brown's office said the goal of Phase 2 is to further expand allowable gathering sizes, allow more people to work together in offices and allow visitation at congregate care facilities.
Phase 3: Concerts, festivals will be last to return
Large gatherings at places like festivals, concerts and sporting events, won't see a comeback anytime soon. Initial guidance from the state indicates they will be postponed until at least September, but large events could be delayed beyond that, until a vaccine or prevention is developed,state guidelines indicate.
Thursday's announcement followed draft plans the governor's office released earlier this week, and a reopening of some of the state's parks and recreational sites, where physical distancing could be practiced.
"It worked. Oregon flattened the curve," Pat Allen, director of the Oregon Health Authority, said Thursday. "So far, we have avoided the tragic worst case scenarios we have seen play out around the world and in other places in the United States."
Allen said Oregon's COVID-19 death rate was the "eighth lowest in the country," but Allen and Brown cautioned that reopening certain aspects of public life doesn't mean the virus has diminished, and increased public activity could lead to a spike in infection.
This story has been updated with additional information.
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