Much to customers' and business owners' dismay, Clackamas County returns to high-risk level COVID-19 restrictions, Friday, April 9. Despite vaccinations ramping up in Oregon, COVID-19 cases, deaths and hospitalizations have begun to rise again.
Oregon Gov. Kate Brown made the announcement Tuesday, April 6. Several other counties also are changing levels. The changes come as case counts and hospitalizations are increasing in several parts of the state.
"We are at a critical moment in this pandemic as we face more contagious variants of COVID-19 taking hold in our communities," Brown said in a news release. "Now, more than ever, it's imperative that we all continue wearing masks, maintain physical distance, stay home when sick and get the vaccine when it's available to you."
The announcement was made the same day the Oregon Health Authority reported 544 new COVID-19 cases and 33 additional deaths from the novel coronavirus.
The Oregon Health Authority reported 2,964 new daily cases of COVID-19 during the week of Monday, March 29, through Sunday, April 4, representing a 21% increase from the week prior.
According to the OHA's weekly report, "new COVID-19 related hospitalizations rose to 150, up from 137 last week (and) reported COVID-19 related deaths rose to 19, up from 10 last week." The percentage of positive tests also increased from 3.7% to 4.5%.
Since March 7, Clackamas County's case counts have risen with the state numbers. From March 7-20, the case count was 416, and as of April 3, the case count had risen to 595, accounting for 140.5 cases per 100,000 people and a 5.5% positivity rate.
Among other things, returning to "high risk" means indoor dining capacity is reduced from 50% to 25%, indoor fitness facilities are reduced from 50% to 25% capacity and at-home social gatherings are reduced from 10 to eight people.
Rollback incites backlash
Sandy Mayor Stan Pulliam and the Clackamas County Board of Commissioners have voiced opposition to the state's decision to roll back relaxed restrictions on businesses.
"(Gov. Brown) is denying us the courtesy she afforded others with a two-week grace period before sending those counties into total shutdown," Pulliam claimed in a post on his Facebook page. "This means that recently ordered food in restaurants will go bad. Employees who were starting to return to work will have to stay home. Businesses will have lines at their doors to make sure Kate Brown's arbitrary numbers are not exceeded under threat of fines, losing video lottery machines, and other administrative punishment.
"What did we do to deserve this? The numbers would be laughable if the consequences for our family businesses weren't so dire."
Pulliam added that "if you're a small business who refuses to go backward, or one who complies — God bless you for continuing to fight. Send me a message and my family and I will be there to support you as customers and neighbors during this obscene misuse of power by an overreacting and vengeful governor."
The county board of commissioners sent a letter expressing their disappointment Thursday, April 8.
The commissioners also voiced confusion over not having been granted a "two-week caution period and concern about the limited three-day warning for businesses to comply with new restrictions.
"Three days' notice to our businesses to prepare to cut capacity does not afford them the time necessary to plan for inventory reduction, staffing changes, and everyday operation modifications," commissioners wrote. "As an example, many of our restaurants have spent $10,000-$20,000 in purchasing supplies and retraining and hiring employees that will be lost by this sudden change. We know that reopening schools to in-person instruction, coupled with businesses bringing employees and customers back, results in COVID-19 cases rising. This is not new information, and it is not surprising.
"Our residents have been through much — three declared disasters in 11 months. While our communities are resilient, many businesses and their employees are on precipice of collapse. We must also consider the impact to our lower socioeconomic groups. This is about economic justice for people. Please allow us the two-week caution period and focus the efforts of education and enforcement on the populations where the spikes are occurring," they added.
"Clackamas County is committed to work collaboratively with the state to fight the spread of the virus. We ask you to take our feedback and recommendations to heart. We work closest with our most affected communities and can provide insight in what is working and what is not. We are available to further discuss these considerations further."
Businesses look for bright side
While elected officials have been vocally opposed to the change in risk levels, many business owners are trying to look ahead and/or roll with the punches.
Despite the setback, Sandy Cinema is still planning for reopening later this spring. When the county initially progressed to moderate risk, the cinema's representatives said because of lack of "a steady stream of BIG, family movies" they would wait to reopen.
As of April 6, Prestige Theaters Social Media Specialist Marina Gephart said: "We are still planning on reopening on April 16. We have implemented a new reserved seating system that is helping us operate under the capacity limitations."
"This was a very careful decision with lots of planning, waiting, and watching," representatives posted to the theater's Facebook page. "We feel confident that everyone is ready to safely enjoy family entertainment again."
For more information about the theater's reopening schedule and required safety precautions, facebook.com/sandycinema.
Also trucking forward with reopening plans after months of closure, the Sandy Historical Museum Board of Directors has scheduled the reopening date for the museum and displays as May 1, "barring any COVID problems," said board member Ken Funk.
"We would adhere to the 25% of capacity if we are still in the high-risk category," Funk said.
The gift shop and visitors center at 39345 Pioneer Blvd. remains open with limited hours.
"I'm bummed about it, but I understand why it's happening," said Bunsenbrewer co-owner Sean Cowan of the returned high-risk restrictions. "People keep refusing to wear masks and get vaccinated. It's very frustrating to me."
When the county began improving in case counts earlier this year, Cowan was able to bring back a bartender after months of taking on much of the operations responsibilities himself. Now he says: "we're planning to keep her on as long as we can."
While in moderate risk, Cowan said "we were at a place where we could have 50 people, and I was just starting to fill out my calendar."
"Our particular space is so big, we have to be able to fill it with events," he added. "Trivia nights were just building back up."
Back in high risk, Cowan said Bunsenbrewer, at 16506 S.E. 362nd Drive in Sandy, will continue to offer to-go and delivery services with ordering online at bunsenbrewer.com. Trivia nights also will continue, as they have throughout the pandemic, but with fewer seats. Those who prefer to support from home can participate in the trivia fun virtually. Information on how to join via Zoom is on the Bunsenbrewer Facebook page at facebook.com/Bunsenbrewer.
"We want to keep giving people an activity," Cowan said.
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