Oregon will lift pandemic limits in place for more than a year no later than the end of June, Gov. Kate Brown said.
"When Oregon reaches 70% or by Wednesday, June 30, we will lift the safety programs we have relied on and open our economy," Brown told reporters during a phone call Friday, June 25.
After the deadline passes, mandates on masks, social distancing and capacity limits of restaurants and venues will be removed. When the deadline passes, the county-by-county risk level system also will be dissolved.
"Effectively, Oregon is 100% open for business," she said.
Business associations praised the announcement. "We applaud the governor for taking this rational approach to lifting COVID restrictions," said Sandra McDonough, president and chief executive officer of Oregon Business & Industry. "With nearly seven out of 10 adult Oregonians vaccinated, it is time to fully reopen Oregon. Oregon businesses stepped up over the last 15 months, taking extraordinary steps to stop the spread of this disease and help keep their employees, customers, families and neighbors safe. It is time to return to normal."
Jason Brandt, president and chief executive officer of the Oregon Restaurant & Lodging Association, warned, however, that it could take years for the economy to fully recover. "We never could have imagined the gravity and depth to which government regulations would dictate how we live in a free society when industry shutdowns and capacity restrictions first went into effect on Tuesday, March 17, of 2020," Brandt said. "Here we are 15 months later picking up the pieces and doing whatever we can to help Oregon's extraordinary hospitality industry find its identity once again and it will take time. From a workforce access crisis and supply chain constraints to debt accumulation and back rents and mortgages coming due, historic industry challenges remain and will persist in the years ahead."
Brown and health officials warned that the crisis for the state is not over. "Some 98% of people dying from COVID-19 are unvaccinated," Brown said.
Oregon Health Authority Director Patrick Allen said the pandemic response is shifting, with management of the crisis being turned over to local officials. County commissioners will decide public health actions and the state will only compile statistics and offer assistance.
"Local officials will be responsible for those decisions and for the consequences," Allen said.
Allen warned that areas with high numbers of unvaccinated residents were in danger of flare-up with the limits lifted. "They're dry tinder," Allen said.
Setting a firm deadline was needed as the state headed into the popular July 4 weekend. "Obviously businesses and venues need certainty on reopening," Brown said.
Decisions on schools also will shift to local leaders. Oregon policy intends to have "full-time, in-person instruction," said Colt Gill, director of the Oregon Department of Education. New guidance to schools will be sent by June 30 and will include summer school recommendations.
Allen said the June 30 shift is an attempt to handle COVID-19 within protocols for other health policies.
Health officials are given the maximum amount of responsibility. But it is not a blanket removal of state authority if things go awry, he said. "Nothing is off the table," Allen said
Brown said she believed the new system will work and will add flexibility instead of a one-way approach across all 36 counties. But she did not rule out statewide emergency orders if the virus makes a widespread resurgence.
"We obviously don't know what the future holds," she told reporters.
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