SALEM – Gov. Kate Brown has had a change of heart regarding putting students back in school, but hasn’t about businesses reopening.
In response to a statewide movement for businesses to open in defiance of her orders, Brown responded with a statement on New Year’s Eve, the day before some businesses planned to reopen (see related story on A6 and www.polkio.com).
“Oregon’s health and safety measures are in place to protect Oregonians, save lives, and keep our hospitals and health care workers from becoming overwhelmed by COVID-19,” Brown said. “Oregonians have made incredible sacrifices throughout this pandemic and, now, many communities across Oregon are reducing the spread of COVID-19 and moving into risk levels that allow restaurants and businesses to reopen to at least some indoor service.”
Currently, the state uses a risk level grade for each county, depending on the spread of the virus, to determine what activities and gathering sizes are permitted. Polk County remains under the highest “extreme risk,” category, which means restrictions on gatherings, a ban on indoor dining, and gyms remaining closed.
The majority of the state is under the extreme risk level.
The Polk County Board of Commissioners recently put its support behind a plan issued by the state chamber of commerce streamlining business reopening. The board urged other local officials to support the plan as well.
Progress may be put at risk if shops return to business as normal too soon, Brown said. “If businesses reopen too early and instead create new spikes in COVID-19 cases, the actions of a few business owners could set entire communities back and keep them in the Extreme Risk category for even longer,” she said. “It’s unfortunate and irresponsible that some local politicians are choosing to willfully mislead business owners into jeopardizing public health and risking fines, instead of working with their communities to help stop the spread of COVID-19 so that we can reopen businesses, schools, and more quickly return to normal life.”
Brown said that local officials, including a group of mayors urging reopening, don’t have the authority to defy orders.
“Any businesses that reopens in violation of state risk level requirements for their county will be subject to fines and enforcement,” Brown said. “Undoubtedly, those same local elected officials who are encouraging businesses to fully reopen and flagrantly disregard public health are unlikely to have the backs of businesses when faced with fines and penalties, nor are they likely to be willing to be held responsible for the public health impacts their actions create.”
Brown said she’s directed Oregon OSHA and the OLCC to take action to ensure businesses are in compliance, noting she expects those agencies first attempt to educate violators before using enforcement. She said more resources are available or will be available soon to struggling business a both the state and federal level.
“We can’t waiver in our response to the virus now, when the end is finally in sight and resources are on the way. We are better than this,” Brown said. “As we head into the new year, I am asking all Oregonians, yet again, to commit to making smart choices and to take seriously their individual responsibilities during a public health emergency.”
COVID-19 in Polk County
Eight people in Polk County have died from COVID-19 since Dec. 28, according to reports from Oregon Health Authority.
In Polk County the totals are 2,097 cases and 33 deaths as of Tuesday.
Here are the daily counts in Polk County since Dec. 28:
Monday, Jan. 4: 16 new cases and no deaths.
Sunday, Jan. 3: 31 new cases and three deaths. Those who died included a 77-year-old woman who tested positive on Nov. 13 and died on Dec. 12, an 81-year-old woman who tested positive on Nov. 30 and died on Dec. 15, and a 79-year-old woman who tested positive on Dec. 15 and died on Dec. 28. All had underlying conditions.
Saturday, Jan. 2: 37 new cases and no deaths.
Friday, Jan. 1: 21 new cases and no deaths.
Thursday, Dec. 31: 39 new cases and no deaths
Wednesday, Dec. 30: 20 new cases and two deaths. Those who died included an 85-year-old woman who tested positive on Nov. 27 and died on Dec. 23 and a 79-year-old woman who tested positive on Dec. 12 and died on Dec. 28. Both women had underlying conditions.
Tuesday, Dec. 29: 11 new cases and three deaths. Those who died included a 79-year-old woman who tested positive on Nov. 25 and died on Dec. 11; a 90-year-old woman who tested positive on Nov. 27 and died on Dec. 9; and a 85-year-old woman who tested positive on Nov. 27 and died on Dec. 20. All had underlying conditions.
Monday, Dec. 28: 32 cases and no deaths.
Brown directed the Oregon Health Authority to build up to vaccinating 12,000 people per day by Jan.15.
“That will put us on track to deploy every vaccine we have in our hands each week,” Brown said. “OHA will be working with health care providers, pharmacies, and local public health partners to streamline the distribution process to achieve that goal.”
Though Oregon is keeping pace with other states in the percentage of the population being vaccinated, she said distribution of the vaccine is not moving fast enough. About 3,700 doses were given in the first week the vaccine was available. That jumped to 29,000 the second week.
“Oregon families, schools, and businesses are counting on rapid vaccine distribution. We all are,” Brown said. “But Oregon, like most of the country, is not moving fast enough. All states are grappling with the same logistical challenges, and while we are making steady progress, we must move even more quickly when every vaccination has the potential to save someone’s life.”