Sandy mayor opposes Oregon two-week social pause
Last week, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown announced that effective Wednesday, Nov. 18, a new two-week "freeze" will be imposed on social activities around the state. The mandate limits operations for businesses like restaurants, stores and bars and closes recreational spaces like gyms, theaters and museums. Sandy Mayor Stan Pulliam is once again opposing the gubernatorial decision and is looking to find ways to exempt Sandy and its businesses from these restrictions.
The two-week "freeze" comes in response to three consecutive weeks of Oregon's COVID-19 confirmed case counts hitting new daily records.
On Nov. 12, Oregon's daily COVID-19 case count surpassed 1,000 cases, reporting a record-breaking 1,122 cases. In the days that followed, Oregon reported 1,076 new cases, then 1,097 cases. On Nov. 13, the number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 was 303, marking the first time the state has breached the 300-patient mark since the pandemic hit Oregon in February. Brown warned that without a drop in infection rates, medical facilities will be strained beyond capacity.
"These risk reduction measures are critical," Brown said on Nov. 13. "The last thing you want to hear is the ambulance has no place to go. The dreaded winter surge is here."
Scientists have forecasted that a worse spike in cases might be possible this winter as people are forced indoors where the virus is more easily spread.
"Like it or not, we might be facing the roughest days of the pandemic," Brown added.
When Brown first implemented restrictions on businesses this past spring, Pulliam very publicly opposed the order, calling the negative impact on the local economy untenable and saying that the level of risk did not warrant the weight of those restrictions.
Now, in the days leading to this next temporary pause, Pulliam has asked city staff and the city's attorney to provide the Sandy City Council with options on how to alleviate the impact of the restrictions.
Pulliam says the pause on social activities and potential actions for the city will be a topic of discussion in tonight's council meeting, which will begin with a work session at 6 p.m. followed by the regular meeting at 7 p.m. via Zoom. Information on how to attend the virtual meeting can be found online.
"In response to Gov. Brown's announcement (Friday, Nov. 13) and the resulting drastic negative consequences to our local businesses and economy, along with the incredibly high survival rate of COVID-19 (99.98% survivability rate for ages 0-70 and 94.6% for 74-plus), I've asked our city staff and attorney to provide our Sandy City Council with any options we may have available to us at our already scheduled meeting on Monday (Nov. 16) evening," Pulliam said in a post to social media on Friday, Nov. 13. He then implored the citizens of Sandy to contact councilors with any concerns regarding the restrictions ahead of the meeting so they could be mentioned in the Council's discussion.
Sandy has not been immune in recent weeks to the overall rise in COVID-19 cases. The most recent weekly report from OHA showed the 97055 ZIP code as having experienced 157 confirmed cases since the beginning of the pandemic. While this is relatively low, that number has been increasing by larger margins in recent weeks, with the largest increase of 39 cases occurring between Nov. 2-8. The total case count in the 97055 ZIP code equates to a rate of 904.9 cases per 100,000 people, according to the OHA.
Clackamas County currently has a reported COVID-19-related death rate of 2% and 1,029.5 cases per 100,000 people. The rate of positive tests in Clackamas County was 5% as of Nov. 13.
In response to these recent numbers, Pulliam said Sandy's case count is still comparatively low when looked at among the bigger cities it's been linked to in the state's phased reopening.
"We are obviously heading into flu season, so an increase in cases was expected," Pulliam explained. "I'm not overly concerned about where we sit in Sandy as facing this pandemic."
When asked what metrics Pulliam would have to see to think such a pause was warranted, he said, "I'd have to see statistics showing the hospital system is actually overwhelmed."
"I'm not seeing the facts showing our hospitals near capacity," he explained. "I'd also need to see growth in the mortality rate. I'd need to see a change in the science and metrics to believe otherwise."
Pulliam added that he doesn't understand the focus on athletic clubs and theaters, as "less than 3% of cases" are shown to come from those facilities and "one-third of cases are coming from workplaces."
"I have to wonder what we're trying to accomplish here, especially with the mortality rate being so low," Pulliam explained.
Rather than a lockdown, Pulliam thinks the answer to rising case numbers should be more education.
"I think it's important we continue to educate our local business owners on precautions," Pulliam said. "Those who are most vulnerable should stay home, and we should allow people to make decisions on what works best for their families."
Besides the impact on businesses, Pulliam said he is confused and concerned by the governor's talk of "leaning on local law enforcement" to enforce restrictions.
The new mandate asks Oregonians to limit social events to six people. It also orders Oregon State Police to work with local law enforcement to limit social gatherings and use their discretion to enforce as a citation, fine or arrest for a Class C misdemeanor.
Brown had said earlier this summer that she would not be "the party police" and send officers to private gatherings to enforce gathering limits. That's no longer the policy, she said. "Unfortunately, we have no other option."
"How is she going to do that?" Pulliam posed. "We're not sending our local police officers over the holidays to knock on our neighbors' doors to fully enforce this order. There is also a concern of resources for our local Sandy Police Department, as well as law enforcement agencies around the state. The 'defund the police' crowd can't have it both ways. You can't ask to pull funds from law enforcement while then asking them to enforce your local mandate."
If there are to be future executive orders of this nature, Pulliam says financial aid is a must.
"Several businesses have been reaching out to me and they're in panic mode," Pulliam explained. "They were already barely hanging on as it is. Now they're extremely worried that this will push them over the top, and that makes me worried about the future of Main Street economy."
Though he sees it as needed, Pulliam is not hopeful for more relief funds. He says "I worry that the governor is relying on relief from the federal government" and that he sees a likelihood that gridlock between the incoming Democratic presidential administration and the potentially Republican-run Senate will make relief (and timely relief) impossible.
"If we're continuing with lockdowns, there is going to be a major need for relief," Pulliam said. "As a leader, I don't think we should be proceeding, believing any kind of relief is on its way any time soon. Obviously, (the city) will continue to look under every rock to find relief for our community members, but we're only so big and only capable of helping so much."
For the latest information on the COVID-19 crisis in Oregon, visit https://bit.ly/OHAcovidresources.
Gary A. Warner, of the Oregon Capital Bureau, contributed to this article.
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