Gov. Kate Brown listens in during a phone call with Vice President Mike Pence and other governors on Monday, April 20. (Amanda Loman/Salem Reporter)
Salem residents can no longer dine in at a restaurant, work out at a gym, host house parties and they might have to wait in line to enter grocery or hardware stores.
On Wednesday, Nov. 18, Oregonians woke up to Gov. Kate Brown’s temporary two week “freeze,” her latest executive order intended to restrain the state’s uncontrolled spread of Covid.
The order mandates that bars and restaurants can only offer drive-in or take-out. Pools, museums and indoor recreational facilities must close. Grocery stores, malls and other retailers can operate at 75% capacity. Businesses are directed to facilitate teleworking by their employees as much as possible.
Religious services can still take place but only 25 people are allowed to attend indoors or 50 outdoors. Colleges, childcare and homeless shelters can remain open. Oregonians can still get a haircut or get their nails done. College sports will also continue. Public health guidelines remain in place for all these activities.
While the freeze is supposed to last two weeks, her office has indicated it could last longer in some counties if infection rates remain high.
As Oregonians prepare for Thanksgiving, Brown and public health officials have warned that social gatherings present a particular risk for spreading the virus and have discouraged Oregonians from getting together with people outside their households. The governor’s order states that at-home social gatherings should be limited to six people from no more than two households.
Those knowingly violating the order risk a Class C misdemeanor, which is punishable by 30 days in jail, a $1,250 fine or both.
The order will be enforced by state regulatory agencies such as Oregon Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the Oregon Liquor Control Commission, as well as police agencies. The Oregon Health Authority can also impose civil penalties of $500 a day for those that violate the order.
In the past, Brown has been reluctant to direct law enforcement to back up her orders. But this time, Brown has indicated she’ll be stricter this time.
"I am not expecting law enforcement to be going door-to-door, but in cases where there's a flagrant disregard of the law, people should and will be cited," she said on CNN earlier this week.
She said the response from law enforcement would be handled similarly to noise complaints from loud house parties.
Oregon’s law enforcement agencies will continue to take an “education first” approach to enforcing Gov. Kate Brown’s executive orders and will also issue criminal citations as a “last resort,” according to a letter signed by the Oregon State Sheriffs’ Association, Oregon Association Chiefs of Police and the Oregon State Police on Tuesday.
The groups instead recommend that people call Oregon Occupational Safety and Health or the Oregon Liquor Control Commission to report complaints of people violating executive orders in restaurants and bars or workplaces.
“Oregon Law Enforcement recognizes that we cannot arrest or enforce our way out of the pandemic,” the letter reads.
Jeremy Landers, Marion County Sheriff’s Office spokesman, said the agency is staying consistent with its approach to educate people about the risks.
Treven Upkes, Salem police spokesman, said the Salem Police Department is taking the same tact.
The most recent order from the governor is the second to close businesses statewide since her initial stay-home order in March. While the new orders aren’t as stringent, they are expected to take a hefty toll on businesses, particularly restaurants that have already been walloped by pandemic restrictions.
As she prepared to sign her order, Brown announced on Tuesday that the state will commit $55 million in financial assistance to struggling businesses. County governments will be in charge of distributing the money that will be prioritized for the hospitality industry and other businesses impacted by the order, as well as small companies and those owned by women and minorities.
Marion County spokeswoman Jolene Kelly said that the county learned about it like everyone else and is waiting for additional information on how the money can be used before setting up a new program.
“We plan to do it as quickly as possible,” she said. “We know businesses are hurting right now.”
Polk County Commissioner Craig Pope did not immediately respond to a phone call Wednesday morning seeking comment.
Nathaniel Brown, spokesman for Oregon Business and Industry, said in an email that his group was pleased that Brown set up the fund but said the orders will still deal a blow to struggling businesses.
“We do continue to be very concerned about the devastating effects these new closures will have on small businesses throughout the state. Many of them may not survive this latest blow,” he said. “While this fund won’t offset all of the inevitable business losses, it will help many.”
As of Tuesday, Nov. 17, there have been 58,570 cases of Covid and 778 related deaths in Oregon and more than 11 million cases and 247,000 deaths from the virus nationwide.
Brown issued the order to prevent hospitals from being overrun with patients. The text of the order points out that cases have risen from 200 to 300 new cases a day in September to 1,000 in mid -November.
Hospitals have already begun delaying surgeries to preserve capacity. But the order notes that the rise in infections “means that we are headed for very dark days ahead.”
“The dreaded winter surge is here,” the order said.
Saphara Harrell contributed reporting.
Contact reporter Jake Thomas at 503-575-1251 or [email protected] or @jakethomas2009.
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