Salem's downtown during the lunch hour on Thursday, March 19. (Saphara Harrell/Salem Reporter)
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Salem is about to become even more quiet.
Marion County commissioners, acting in an emergency session Saturday, decided to close all county offices and send home “non-essential employees.”
“In these unprecedented times, it takes extreme measures to ensure the health and safety of our community and employees,” Commissioner Colm Willis, the board chair, said in a Saturday statement.
The county again urged local residents to stay home, a tactic that health officials across the country say is essential to slowing the spread of the novel coronavirus.
“Community members should stay home and only go out for essential needs like food and medicine,” said Katrina Rothenberger, county public health director. “The spread of COVID-19 won’t slow down unless everybody does their part.”
Some Salem restaurants that tried to continue operating after inside dining was banned have decided to turn off the lights.
Gerry Frank’s Konditorei, at 310 Kearney St. S.E., announced Sunday that it was closing at day’s end on Monday. The iconic restaurant, a source of rich cakes and other treats, opened in 1982.
“I cannot express how much this breaks my heart that this has to happen not only to the Konditorei but ALL my fellow restaurant owners, servers, cooks, support staff,” according to a Facebook message from Linae Sielicky.
In downtown Salem, Wild Pear Restaurant at 327 State St announced it was closing at 4 p.m. Monday and until then was giving 25% off its carry out orders, according to a Facebook post.
“We look forward to being able to welcome you all back into our dining room once we are all safe to,” the restaurant said in its social media statement. “In the meanwhile, we hope you’ll keep supporting our comrades remaining open to feed us. Order as much takeout as possible!”
The ranks of shuttered businesses is likely to grow Monday. Gov. Kate Brown is expected to issue her latest orders to limit the movement of people and the conduct of business. She has resisted legally ordering stay-at-home restrictions but Portland-area mayors and the state’s largest medical associations insisted through the weekend that she act.
Their urgency was punctuated by images of jammed coastal towns on what is the opening weekend of spring break – now just another indistinguishable day of life upside down in Oregon. Mayors and other coastal leaders told their visitors to go home, imposing their own limits on overnight stays.
That also prompted the Oregon State Parks and Recreation Department to decide Sunday afternoon to padlock every state campground in the state. Campers had until 1 p.m. Monday to clear out.
“Hardest thing we’ve ever had to do,” Director Lisa Sumption said in a website posting. “We’d hoped people would protect themselves and, more importantly, others by limiting their travel just to short trips to places with space. That didn’t happen.”
The number of Oregonians confirmed infected continue to grow through the weekend, with 161 positive tests. That includes 22 in Marion County and one in Polk County. The Oregon Health Authority reported 2,864 negative tests, though testing has been restricted because of limited testing supplies.
As the governor considered her next steps Sunday for stay-at-home mandates, Oregon’s major business organizations lined up behind “a single, statewide standard that gives certainty to Oregonians.”
In a letter emailed to Brown on Sunday, 30 business organizations ranging from Oregon Business and Industry to the Oregon RV Dealers Association recommended a long list of businesses and industries that should be considered “essential” and exempt from any order to close.
“We are focused on ensuring Oregon can maintain economic vitality in the short term so Oregonians have jobs to return to in the longer term,” they wrote.
They want all businesses that supply products for people to stay at home to be exempt as well as all transportation services, including truck and auto sales. They want manufacturing and construction to continue and all services needed to buy and sell real estate left intact.
Sandra McDonough, president and CEO of Oregon Business and Industry, said in an email Monday that manufacturers would operate "if the plant institutes social distancing practices and adopt other standards directed by the governor."
She said that in most plans "workers do not congregate together and they wear protective gear. If is easier than in say, restaurants, to accomplish social distancing. I have spoken to a lot of manufacturers who have adjusted their operations to make sure social distancing is happening, and many are providing on-site health screening."
She said the state faces both a health and economic crisis.
"Think about if all manufacturing in Oregon stopped today," she said. "It could overwhelm the unemployment insurance fund. We have already seen massive amounts of people accessing that fund because of the devastating impacts in the service industry. Whatever we can to do keep people working, instead of heading to unemployment, the better we will be able to weather this crisis."
Meantime, state legislators were scheduled to convene in Salem Monday morning to continue crafting the state’s version of an economic disaster plan. The Special Joint Committee on Coronavirus Response is considering actions to speed up and expand unemployment benefits, keep people in their homes, and help businesses function the best they can.
Brown gave renters in Salem and elsewhere some hope on Sunday, ordering a 90-day freeze on evictions.
“The inability of Oregonians to pay rent and related costs as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic increases the likelihood of evictions from their homes, which in turn increases economic hardship and life, health and safety risks for all Oregonians,” the governor said in her order.
If evictions weren’t stopped, Brown said, “there will be increased opportunities for the virus to spread among people displaced from their homes.”
Her order bars the delivery of any eviction notice for nonpayment of rent, but allows evictions for other reasons to go on.
Les Zaitz is editor of Salem Reporter. Email: [email protected]