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About 80 attendees gathered in St. Helens to protest COVID-19 restrictions on restaurants and other businesses.

PMG PHOTO: ANNA DEL SAVIO - Roughly 80 people gathered on Saturday, Jan. 9, in St. Helens for a rally to urge the reopening of local businesses.Approximately 80 people gathered in St. Helens on Saturday, Jan. 9, in protest of Gov. Kate Brown's restrictions on businesses. Gyms, movie theaters, indoor dining and other businesses are closed in Columbia County to slow the spread of COVID-19.

Organizer Caden Willaby, a 2020 graduate of St. Helens High School, told the crowd that elected officials didn't understand how much the restrictions were harming local businesses.

"The small businesses in our town are struggling and should be represented and protected by these same elected officials," Willaby told the mostly maskless crowd. "I stand here today in support of small businesses that are being forced to obey a tyrannical governor like Kate Brown."PMG PHOTO: ANNA DEL SAVIO - Caden Willaby, a recent St. Helens High School graduate, organized the Jan. 9 Open Oregon rally in St. Helens.

Sandy Mayor Stan Pulliam also spoke to the crowd. Pulliam has gained attention in recent weeks for calling on businesses to defy Brown's restrictions.

"People are a little tired of not understanding why they can go and pack into big-box stores, support corporate America, but they can't come along on Main Street and enjoy a hamburger with their family," Pulliam said.

The current restrictions do not differentiate between business size. Small family-run restaurants and national chain restaurants face the same standards.

Speakers at the rally did not focus their statements solely on the COVID-19 restrictions, but brought up a range of political issues from President Trump's recent banning on Twitter to the protests and riots that started in Portland over the summer.

Columbia County currently is in the "extreme risk" category as defined by the Oregon Health Authority. In that category — the most restrictive of the four categories — gyms, movie theaters and indoor dining are closed. Outdoor dining is permitted with reduced capacity.

Of Oregon's 36 counties, 24 are in the extreme risk group.

The category that a county is placed in is based off the case rate and test positivity rate. There were 147 confirmed or presumptive cases of COVID-19 in Columbia County in the two-week period from Dec. 20 to Jan. 2. In the same period, 7.3% of tests came back positive.


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