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Columbia County officials are now waiting to hear if their application has qualified for Phase One of Governor Brown’s Reopening Framework.

The Wave

A couple wave and watch as boats float past the dock at St. Helens on Sunday, May 10. More and more people ventured outside over the past weekend following Governor Brown’s announcement Thursday that Oregon will begin to reopen following the COVID-19 pandemic. Columbia County has applied to Governor Brown’s office to reopen its economy.

“The county has applied and the plan is in review with the governor’s office,” Columbia County Commissioner Alex Tardif said. “When it’s approved, we’ll be able to set a date for when it reopens.”

See the county's request attached to this story.

As of later Wednesday afternoon, May 13, the county's application was still under review by Brown's office. The governor plans a news conference Thursday morning to announce what counties have qualified for reopening.

Brown's press secretary Liz Merah tells The Chronicle:

"The Governor has been very clear that reopening comes with risk. She is asking all businesses—when it’s time for them to open—to follow our updated guidance, and for Oregonians to abide by the safety measures businesses will be putting in place. Epidemiologists, medical experts, and public health experts are guiding us on how to reopen Oregon in a safe and strong way, and it’s up to all of us to follow their guidance if we want to keep Oregon moving forward."

Under Brown’s Reopening Framework, some counties will be eligible to begin the limited reopening of additional business sectors beginning as early as May 15 if they have demonstrated they have met all prerequisites for reopening. Oregon counties began submitting applications on Friday, May 8. Counties must:

  • Show a decline in COVID-19 or have fewer than 5 hospitalizations
  • Have sufficient COVID-19 testing and contact tracing capability
  • Establish plans for the isolation and quarantine of new cases
  • Have the hospital capacity to handle any surge in COVID-19 cases
  • Have enough personal protective equipment for health care workers

Counties that meet all of the above criteria will be eligible to enter Phase I of reopening on May 15, pending approval of their application by the Governor after recommendations from the Oregon Health Authority.

In Phase I, counties can begin the limited reopening of the following sectors under specific safety guidelines:

  • Restaurants and bars for sit-down service
  • Personal care and services businesses, including barbers and salons
  • In-person gatherings of up to 25 people

See the state's reopening guidelines attached to this story.

Counties must remain in Phase I for at least 21 days before becoming eligible to advance to Phase I

If counties begin to see significant increases in COVID-19 cases or community spread, the Oregon Health Authority will work with local public health officials to evaluate what actions should be taken.

Significant growth in COVID-19 spread could necessitate a county moving back from Phase I to stay-home status. More details on Phases II and III are forthcoming.

There’s a framework that OHA provided that lists the county requirements and Health Region 1 requirements. The health region believes they have met their requirements and the county believes they met their requirements.

As the Columbia County reopens, Tardif said the Columbia County Board of Commissioners message to residents is simple.

“This is Phase 1 and it has a lot of criteria to meet from the state,” he said. “This is not a wide open free-for-all, it’s a slower process to see where it goes. If things don’t go well, we make adjustments. We all have to work together to get to Phase 2.”

Tardif said steps are being taken by Columbia County during the reopening process to ensure the safety and protection of residents and business operations.

“My expectation would be that we follow the criteria set out before us to ensure that we’re all maintaining social distancing and staying healthy,” he said.

Brown’s Reopening announcement

Oregon Governor Kate Brown announced on Thursday, May 7, Phase One of her Oregon Reopening framework that includes county’s formally requesting permission to restart businesses and other functions.

Brown said the state’s immediate efforts to protect communities and shelter parts of the economy in an effort to save lives have made a difference.

“Today, thanks to millions of Oregonians following strict physical distancing measures I am happy to say these sacrifices have prevented as many as 70,000 COVID-19 infections and 1,500 hospitalizations,” she said. “We are on track to meet the goals doctors and health experts have pit lined for us.”

Under Brown’s reopening plan, counties with few or no COVID-19 cases could enter Phase 1 by May 15. Retail businesses, gyms,

salons and barber shops are allowed to reopen if they are following the state’s requirements for reopening and Occupational Safety and Health Administration guidelines.

Brown said hospitalizations of COVID-19 have been stabilized and the state hit a record low of the last week with fewer than 100 coronavirus hospitalization across the state. The state has also increased its supply of personal protection equipment for front line workers and finalized its testing and contracting tracing capabilities.

“Things are defiantly improving,” Brown said. “Science and data are my guideposts as we begin the reopening of Oregon.

Brown said the state expects that there may be an uptick in new coronas cases.

“That’s why we have to be prepared in every corner of the state,” she said.

Part of Brown’s reopening framework also continues to prohibit large gatherings, such as concerts and festivals, until at least September. Following the Governor’s announcement, organizers canceled the Oregon State Fair, which was set for late August in Salem.

UPDATE: The following is a release from Governor Brown's office.

Governor Kate Brown will hold a press availability at 10 a.m. Thursday, May 14, to announce the counties that can begin entering Phase I of reopening on May 15 under her framework for building a safe and strong Oregon. She will be joined by representatives from the Oregon Health Authority.

Updates to sector-specific guidance available at coronavirus.oregon.gov

The Governor’s Office continues to work with the Oregon Health Authority to update health and safety guidance for the reopening process. Members of the public with questions about the reopening process are encouraged to visit coronavirus.oregon.gov. A new version of the website will launch tomorrow, May 14, to help Oregonians navigate the guidance that applies at the county level and statewide.

Statewide retail guidance begins May 15, shopping malls to reopen county by county

Not all retail businesses were automatically closed by the Governor’s Stay Home, Save Lives order. Under the guidance for retailers issued last week, all retailers statewide, including those that were mandated to close previously, will be able to operate as long as they can implement the new safety measures required, effective May 15.

However, outdoor and indoor shopping malls will not reopen statewide. Malls will reopen county by county, as counties meet the prerequisites for reopening in Phase I.

Expanded emergency child care statewide for families returning to work

Throughout the coronavirus pandemic, Oregon child care providers have continued to operate by applying with the Early Learning Division to provide emergency child care––with priority given to the families of first responders, emergency workers, health care professionals, and other essential personnel working outside the home.

Beginning May 15, emergency child care will be expanded with new health and safety guidelines, as well as greater flexibility so that families returning to work under Oregon’s phased reopening can also have access to child care options. The new guidance also applies to other early learning programs, such as respite care and kindergarten transition.

Additional draft guidance

Further guidance documents are forthcoming, and will be posted to coronavirus.oregon.gov.

Follow this developing story here online and in the Wednesday print editions of The Chronicle.

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(1) comment

Riparian Rob

Columbia County residents have by-and-large resisted social distancing measures in a opinionated, anti-scientific manner. My own personal observations, walking the dogs, or driving past bars and restaurants, are that St Helens is delusional, acting as if there's no risk. The conventional wisdom seems to be, as it is often shared to me, or overheard at the Walmart, is that the whole shut down has been a bit of a hoax. I am basing my actions on science, and will continue to maintain social distancing conditions, and wear a mask, until the science bears out removing these precautions. Sadly, I anticipate the real covid outbreak to occur in 2-4 weeks. It's spreading right now.

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