Open Oregon protest prompts complaints about businesses
Within the first weekend of the "Open Oregon" protest, Clackamas County Public Health had received nearly 40 complaints of establishments in the Sandy, Estacada and Mount Hood areas violating COVID-19 safety guidelines.
The "Open Oregon" protest, which prompted the opening of multiple rural Clackamas County businesses under tiered COVID-19 restrictions on Jan. 1, was met with support as well as criticism and complaints by citizens.
According to public records obtained by Pamplin Media Group, between Jan. 1 and 3, Clackamas County received six complaints regarding the Red Shed Public House in Sandy, five about Wraptitude in Welches, one for the Mt. Hood Athletic Club in Sandy, four for Paola's Pizza Barn in Sandy, one for Donny's Gateway Pub in Sandy, one about the Sandy Fred Meyer, three for Brightwood Tavern on the mountain, three for Mt. Hood Impact Jiu Jitsu and nine for Eagle Creek Saloon in Eagle Creek. There was also one complaint filed about the "Open Oregon" rally hosted in Estacada on Tuesday, Dec. 29, citing several unmasked attendees.
The Oregon Occupational Safety and Health Administration had not yet responded to a similar public records request by Pamplin Media's press time.
The goal of the Open Oregon protest is to highlight how brutal the state-mandated closures have been for local businesses and calls on establishments to operate under "high risk" restrictions, which allows for a reduced amount of indoor dining.
Under the current government framework, both Multnomah and Clackamas Counties are considered "extreme risk" areas for the spread of COVID-19, meaning indoor recreational facilities like museums, theaters and athletic clubs must remain closed and indoor dining or drink consumption also is prohibited. Eating and drinking establishments are allowed to be open with outdoor seating at a capacity of 50 people, composed of parties of six people per table from a limit of two households, maximum. They also must close by 11 p.m.
The risk of activities is determined by the Oregon Health Authority, which uses the following criteria:
Though "Open Oregon" encourages businesses to open with a level of COVID-19 precautions in place, multiple complaints said these elements were not present.
Some complaints cited a lack of masking, distancing and even cleanliness at restaurants that opened.
On Friday, Jan. 1, a caller to the public health division said there was indoor dining occurring at Wraptitude without the precautions of social distancing and masking in place. They also reported that the facility was allegedly "not keeping things clean" and mentioned that people are "waving Trump flags outside of restaurant."
Another New Year's Day complaint about the Eagle Creek Saloon alleged a lack of masks and social distancing.
"They were seating customers back-to-back in booths in their restaurant, no distance between tables. Patrons were allowed to walk around mask-less," the complaint stated. "My daughter went in to get a to-go order and was shocked [at] what she saw. She couldn't get out fast enough. Employees were at least masked. It looked like the bar was open, too."
Eagle Creek Saloon declined to comment on the complaints, but spokespeople for the business stated in previous interviews with Pamplin Media Group that they would be following all high-risk protocols, including social distancing, sanitization and requiring customers to wear masks when not sitting at a table. They also said that if they didn't participate in "Open Oregon," the establishment may be closed a year from now because of the financial impacts of the pandemic.
A complaint about Red Shed received by the county on Sunday, Jan. 3, described "a group of proudly defiant anti-mask customers being served while sitting without distancing or mask protocols."
Red Shed Owner David Melcher said that a photo included with several complaints about the establishment, which shows people eating inside, is not dated.
"We do our six feet of distance just like everybody else. So whether I go bankrupt or I get fined, either way, I've got to make it," Melcher said. "What they're telling me is I can't make a living … We are three months behind on our rent. And I've never been behind on my rent before. What they're doing is basically ripping my whole being and how we do everything and just taking it away all away."
He added that he considers it a double standard that stores are able to remain open while restaurants are unable to have dine-in customers.
"The restaurant and bar industry is the cleanest industry when it comes to actually working with people. We get a health inspection twice a year, making sure everything we got everything we're supposed to do," he said.
Some complaints criticized city leaders and business owners involved with "Open Oregon," stating that they were "appalled" that they would encourage establishments to open while COVID-19 cases were rising. Both Sandy Mayor Stan Pulliam and Estacada Mayor Sean Drinkwine spoke at the "Open Oregon" rally on Dec. 29.
Multiple people who have filed complaints have expressed concern because of the health risk posed to them, loved ones and their communities.
"These people are not wearing masks, nor social distancing. They are making our entire community at great risk for COVID. As someone who is immunosuppressed and has elderly parents, I have isolated myself as best I can, which is likely far more than most. I also wear a mask whenever I am out. But will any of that matter with these reckless people gallivanting around town?" stated one individual who wrote complaints about Red Shed Public House, Sandy Fred Meyer, Wraptitude, Paola's Pizza, Mt. Hood Impact Jiu Jitsu, Brightwood Tavern, Mt. Hood Athletic Club and Donny's Gateway Pub.
"Beginning yesterday the (Brightwood Tavern) announced they are serving outside and to go," said another complainant. "Yesterday at 4 p.m. the entire bar was packed full of people. I am concerned for my community; it is very small. Please send authorities to investigate."
Most Sandy business owners declined to comment on the complaints filed against them. Clackamas County Public Health said no fines have been levied against these establishments as a result of the complaints.
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