Beginning Friday, June 5, people in 31 Oregon counties will be eligible to return to work in offices, have larger parties, enlarge religious congregations, play tennis, and stay at bars and restaurants until midnight, Gov. Kate Brown said Wednesday.
Brown announced that the first batch of applications to go into Phase 2 of the lifting of COVID-19 restrictions could be announced as early as Thursday. Those given the green light could remove certain restrictions beginning Friday.
More directives — such as how children might return to school classrooms in some areas — are expected next week.
"I want to say 'thank you' to each and every Oregonian who has made sacrifices to protect the health and safety of our communities," Brown said. "Choosing to be both kind and smart is why we have been able to start the reopening process."
Counties will be notified by the state tomorrow, before any public announcement is made.
Only Multnomah County, which includes Portland, has yet to move to Phase 1, which allows small groups to gather and restaurants to offer limited sit-down service, among other actions.
Brown was flanked by Dr. Dean Sidelinger, the state's health officer and epidemiologist, and Oregon Health Authority Director Patrick Allen. She cautioned against the idea that the state could "return to normal" anytime soon. Phase 3, which would lift nearly all restrictions and allow things such as large crowds at concerts, sporting events and other gatherings, is unlikely before a vaccine is found or a treatment that renders the virus less lethal.
"Many of us hoped this would be a quick detour from our normal lives," Brown said. "I know it's frustrating that reopening has to move slowly. I know our economy has taken a devastating blow. But this careful, cautious approach is saving lives."
Brown and health officials said Oregon's adherence to stay-at-home directives, social distancing and hygiene safeguards has minimized the impact of COVID-19 on the state.
Friday's moves would mark the second phase of lifting some of the emergency restrictions Brown put in place 10 weeks ago as the COVID-19 pandemic swept around the world. Oregon has recorded 159 deaths since February, or about four per 100,000 in population. That's one of the lowest rates in the country. Just under 107,000 deaths have been recorded nationwide. An estimated 6.3 million people worldwide have been infected, with 380,000 deaths since the virus first appeared at the end of 2019 in Wuhan, China. The economic shutdown caused by the crisis has pushed the count of unemployed Americans to 40 million.
Under the new rules, the approved counties in Oregon could allow:
• Employees to return to their offices and workplaces, though telecommuting is still strongly recommended when possible.
• Restaurants and bars to stay open until midnight, instead of the current 10 p.m.
• Allow outdoor gatherings of up to 100 people.
• Up to 50 people in an indoor gathering, as long as there are 35 square feet of space allotted for each person. That's up from the current limit of 25 people.
• Large venues — including churches and theaters — could have up to 250 people at the same time, depending on the size of the facility.
• The return of some sports, such as bowling and swimming, but with social distancing rules in place. Equipment sharing should be minimized.
• Collegiate sports teams could begin training while limiting the number of participants and contact.
• New guidelines for reopening gardens, museums and zoos.
Allen said the initial lifting of some restrictions under Phase 1 on May 15 had not caused a spike in cases.
"COVID-19 has not returned with ferocity," he said.
But all three officials underlined that counties needed to continue to increase their testing of residents and tracing of contacts of those infected. Businesses and other groups had to stick with the limits of Phase 2 or the progress could be wiped away.
"Oregonians need to use caution and care to keep (the) virus from bouncing back," Allen said.
Brown administration officials have said recently that they expected to have directives involving schools ready to announce sometime next week.
"It is one of my top priorities that we can get students across the state back into classrooms in the fall," Brown said.
Allen said that the state would come up with the guidelines, but it would be up to local school districts to decide how best to implement the rules.
"Every school and every school district is different," he said.
Decisions on colleges and universities have not yet been finalized. Phase 2 would allow for sports training by college football teams and others, following rules on social distancing and contact. But Brown said she wanted "our Ducks and Beavers ready to tackle the Huskies and Cougars" anytime the OK was given for games.
Sidelinger said the state would be watching statistics in each county closely. If goals are not met, he said that counties would not revert to Phase 1, but would have to institute heightened measures to curb any problem areas.
"Reopening is not an on-off switch," he said. Upticks in any numbers would be a "caution light."
"We may need to dial back permitted activities," he said.
In earlier phases of the crisis, the state urged people to stay at home and not venture out for any but the most crucial needs, such as medical appointments or buying food. Sidelinger said that if people do leave home, they should enjoy the outdoors, where transmission of the virus is less likely.
"Being outside is safer than being inside," Sidelinger said. "We're very good at doing that in Oregon in the summer."
BY THE NUMBERS:
Of Oregon's 36 counties,
• 31 are eligible to go to Phase 2 as early as Friday
• 28 have applied for Phase 2 reopening
• 3 are eligible but haven't applied: Yamhill, Lincoln and Hood River
• 4 are in Phase 1 but went in later and are not yet eligible to apply for Phase 2: Marion, Polk, Washington and Clackamas
• 1 is not in Phase 1: Multnomah