At last, people in Marion and Polk counties can start dining in and head to churches

Brandon Peterson, of Salem, heads back to his car after picking up a to-go order from Noble Wave in downtown Salem on Thursday, April 2. (Amanda Loman/Salem Reporter)

Marion and Polk county residents will soon be able to grab a meal at a restaurant or go to church after Gov. Kate Brown on Wednesday approved plans to begin a phased opening starting Friday.

But residents won’t be able to sit at the bar, eat at a buffet or pass around the ketchup bottle under new restrictions set in Marion County’s roadmap for reopening. Polk County released a similar roadmap last week with guidance from the Oregon Health Authority.

The first phase of reopening allows restaurants, bars, breweries, wineries, personal services, churches, theaters, health clubs, and county parks to open with spaced seating, physical distancing and sanitation. The county is required to stay in the first phase for at least three weeks and will only be allowed to start relaxing restrictions in future phases when public health determines it’s safe.

DOCUMENT LINKMarion County Roadmap

County officials weren’t happy last week when Brown nixed plans for both Marion and Polk counties to resume something close to normal community life as every other county in Oregon outside the Portland metro area was cleared to start a phased opening. State officials cited concerns over hospitalizations and cases of COVID-19. Marion County has posted the highest infection rate in the state.

As of Wednesday, 877 people had tested positive for COVID-19 and 24 have died in Marion County. It’s the second highest count in the state, behind Multnomah County, which has more than double the county’s population.

Marion County officials insisted the community’s medical community had plenty of capacity to handle any spike in serious virus cases that require hospitalization.

In Polk County, a recent outbreak at a senior facility in west Salem has accounted for more than half of the county’s cases.

As of Tuesday, 52 residents and staff have tested positive for COVID-19 at Prestige Senior Living Orchard Heights. Seven have died.

DOCUMENT: Polk County phased opening

Under rules in place on Friday, places of worship, restaurants, bars, health clubs and bowling alleys can only allow up to 50% of what had been their maximum capacity before the global pandemic left them under tight state restrictions.

However, state guidelines limit group gatherings to 25 people.

In food and drink establishments, tables must be spaced 6 feet apart and customers need to stop eating and drinking by 10 p.m.

Condiments like salt, hot sauce and sugar will be served in single-serve packets or from a single-serve container, under the guidelines.

Those providing personal services, such as salons and tattoo parlors, will have to contact clients before their appointment to see if they’ve been sick with a cough or fever and reschedule if they have.

People patronizing businesses are encouraged to wear face masks, but it isn’t required under the plan. However, personal service providers are required to wear face coverings.

Church choirs are going to need extra space. 

Under the county’s plan, if a person is singing without a face covering they need to be 24 feet from another person. Parishioners singing with a face covering need to stay 12 feet away from others.

Inside houses of worship, seating will have to be marked 6 feet apart.

Residents also won’t be able to take a Zumba class.

Under the plan, gyms can’t have fitness classes, locker rooms will be closed and pool use is by appointment only.

Bowling alleys have been cleared to open as well, under the provision that bowling balls get sanitized after each use by immersing them in an alcohol-based sanitizing cleaner.

Correction: This article was updated to reflect the state’s limits on group gatherings capped at 25.

Have a tip? Contact reporter Saphara Harrell at 503-549-6250, [email protected] or @daisysaphara.

SUPPORT CREDIBLE NEWS FOR SALEM: A subscription to Salem Reporter starts at $5/month. Go HERE. Or contribute to keep our reporters and photographers on duty. Go HERE. Checks can be sent: Salem Reporter, 2925 River Rd S #280 Salem OR 97302. Your support matters.