Sandy businesses plan for a Valentine's Day indoors
COVID-19 restrictions on businesses in 12 counties will be eased as of 5 p.m. Friday, Feb. 12, just in time for Valentine's Day.
The state announced Tuesday, Feb. 9, that it would drop risk level ratings for counties due to a decline in new infections.
Ten counties moved out of the extreme risk category, some for the first time since November. That list includes Deschutes, Clatsop, Columbia, Lincoln, and Linn, which all moved from extreme risk to high risk.
The biggest news statewide was the move of Multnomah, Clackamas and Washington counties, also going from extreme to high risk.
"This is welcome news, as we'll start to see more businesses open up and Oregonians being able to get out a bit more," Gov. Kate Brown said Tuesday in announcing the updated risk levels.
The announcement ends a streak of sustained extreme risk levels for most of the populous areas in the state, going back to November. Through Monday, Oregon has reported 147,219 COVID-19 infections and 2,024 deaths. After peaking at more than 1,500 cases per day over a one-week average in early December, the infection trend wobbled through the holiday season before beginning a steady drop at the beginning of 2021. The seven-day average is just above 584 new cases per day, according to the Oregon Health Authority.
The risk level move means that beginning Friday, counties can loosen restrictions on indoor dining, gyms, gathering spaces and other areas. The new levels will remain in place through Feb. 25. New risk levels will be announced in two weeks, on Feb. 23, to go into effect Feb. 26.
Under high risk restrictions, eating and drinking establishments can now allow indoor dining with a capacity of 25% maximum or 50 people, whichever is smaller. Outdoor dining is still allowed at a 75-people maximum and takeout is recommended. For indoor and outdoor seating, six people are allowed per party and per table with a limit of two households. All establishments must close by 11 p.m.
For Bill Schwartz at Boring Brewing, being able to have anyone indoors is a big improvement. Schwartz has been offering limited patio seating and to-go growlers while under extreme-risk restrictions, but with minimal outdoor space, limited means limited.
"I'm looking forward to allowing people to sit inside," Schwartz said.
He explained that even without COVID restrictions, his tasting room only has a capacity of 49 people, meaning he is now allowed to have 12 seated inside at a time. He remains optimistic, saying that 12 people, especially if those 12 people turn over throughout the evening, is still pretty good business.
"I plan on limiting capacity and following all guidelines," Schwartz added. "I have no problem telling people they have to wear a mask (when not seated at their table). I've followed the guidelines from the get-go. We're not setting any sales records, but we're open."
Ria Brower, owner of Ria's Bar and Sandy Family Restaurant in Sandy, is also one of the several business owners in Sandy excited to open her doors, even if for a limited number of people.
Brower was a proponent of the Open Oregon movement, which encouraged businesses to reopen on Jan. 1 within high-risk restrictions, when extreme risk regulations were still mandated. However, for various reasons, she did not reopen for that protest.
The last time Brower was allowed to offer indoor seating was in early November 2020, which, for her, necessitated the rental of an outdoor tent and she was only able to host seven tables at a time.
With the lowering of risk level though, Brower said: "I'm willing to take a chance," and she'll be returning the tent in hopes that the trend of cases continues on a downward trend and she can keep offering indoor dining.
"I have decided to open with 25% capacity on Friday," she explained. "The outdoor tent I rented was $3,000/month, so I'm returning it. I'm going to hope for the best."
"I was very happy to finally be given a chance to make a living, put people back to work and pay bills," she added. "I feel saddened for the other communities who won't be allowed."
Brower attributes the Governor's decision to ease restrictions to pressure from people like Sandy Mayor Stan Pulliam. Pulliam was a leader in the Open Oregon movement, a long-time opponent of the Governor's executive orders restricting businesses during the pandemic and recently co-signed a letter from the Sandy City Council appealing to Gov. Brown to ease restrictions on businesses and families.
While some of Brower's team of 26 employees have found employment elsewhere in the months the restaurant and bar have been restricted to outdoor dining, Brower says she's going to try to bring back as many as she can.
In the days leading up to Friday, Brower is busy ordering food and liquor to serve her customers and preparing Valentine's Day menus to boot.
"It is a lot of money we will spend not knowing (if we'll get to keep offering indoor dining)," Brower explained. "We have 13 days to make some sales. I'm willing to take the chance."
Gary A. Warner with Oregon Capital Bureau, contributed to this story.
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