LA GRANDE — Union County commissioners voted Wednesday morning to recommend rolling back to Phase 1 COVID-19 reopening guidelines.
The move comes as the county is the state's hotspot for the coronavirus with 240 confirmed cases as of Tuesday, according to the Oregon Health Authority, and at least 236 of those stemming from members of the Lighthouse Pentecostal Church, Island City.
The Center for Human Development, a nonprofit health center that oversees public health in the county, announced just two more cases Wednesday morning, bringing the total to 242.
The board of commissioners met via a Zoom call to address the community's concerns about the outbreak. Members of the Center for Human Development, the Union County Sheriff's Office, La Grande Police Department and the Incident Management Team's J.B. Brock sat in on the meeting to provide further information and recommendations. In addition to recommending the roll back to Phase 1, commissioners voted to recommend wearing masks.
The two motions are only recommendations. Commissioner Matt Scarfo said the board is looking into what power it has to enforce and regulate the more restrictive reopening guidelines and mask use. Commissioner Donna Beverage said she would rather trust residents to voluntary enact Phase 1 guidelines. The county, like most of Oregon, had moved into Phase 2 reopening earlier this month.
The state's Phase 1 guidelines generally call for facilities like theaters, public pools and bowling alleys to remain closed, bars and restaurants to end on-site consumption at 10 p.m., and limit gatherings of people to 25.
La Grande Police Chief Gary Bell and Sheriff Boyd Rasmussen confirmed there will be no formal enforcement of guidelines.
"I know some would like to see us take more heavy handed enforcement action, but it is really difficult at this time," Bell said. "These are good people."
The two top local law enforcement officers said their agencies will continue to look into complaints about people not following guidelines and make recommendations to those who don't to reconsider their actions to keep the community safe.
"I think we are prepared as any community to deal with this," Rasmussen said. "We were put on the map with how this has happened and we are on the map on how we are going to handle this."
Public Health Administrator Carrie Brogoitti said what happens next in the county depends on every member of the community stepping up.
"We don’t have a reliable treatment or vaccine," she said. "So the tools we have to use are the preventative measures."