Governor pushes back on restaurants, says saving lives is more important than business

Gov. Kate Brown

Reducing the number of Oregonians becoming sick and dying from Covid outweighs the state’s restaurant and bar industry’s need to serve maskless customers.

That’s one of the key arguments in federal court filings on Monday by Gov. Kate Brown as she pushed back on a lawsuit brought by the state’s restaurant industry contesting her two-week partial shutdown of the economy.

“The limits placed on Oregonians’ activities are frustrating and painful, but they are necessary for the preservation of human life,” said the governor’s response, filed in U.S. District Court by the Oregon Department of Justice.

The governor was reacting to a lawsuit filed Friday, Nov. 20, the Oregon Restaurant and Lodging Association against the governor’s decision to limit bars and restaurants to take-out and drive-through service, arguing it wasn’t supported by data from the Oregon Health Authority. The complaint further argued that the order would cripple the already strained restaurant industry and violated the U.S. Constitution’s guarantees of equal protection and due process. 

The association was seeking a temporary restraining order to stop the governor’s order.

The governor’s attorneys shot back that the association’s constitutional rights don’t include the “liberty to expose the community to a communicable disease.”

While the rise in Covid transmissions haven’t been traced back to bars and restaurants, there is evidence that eating and drinking establishments remain risky environments for the virus’ spread, Brown argued in her response.

“Because restaurants bring together individuals from different households for substantial lengths of time, groups may be sitting in close proximity across a table, and patrons have to remove their masks to eat and drink, dining in restaurants carries a significant risk of infection,” said the filing.

Multiple studies have associated rises in Covid infections with dining in a restaurant, according to the filing. 

Covid transmission have reached record highs in Oregon and regularly exceeds one thousand new cases daily. Brown has warned that the state’s hospital system may become overwhelmed unless transmissions are reduced.

This story will be updated.

Contact reporter Jake Thomas at [email protected] or 503-575-1251.


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