Malheur County edges toward next phase of reopening

Restrictions on some businesses may be lifted if Gov. Kate Brown approves a request from Malheur County to move into Phase 2 of a reopening plan. (CDC file art)

ONTARIO – Local residents may get to go for a swim, stay later at a local restaurant or bar and go bowling if the state approves a request from Malheur County later this week.

Monday, county officials ask Gov. Kate Brown to move the county to the second phase of reopening, a loosening of restrictions that allows more freedom of movement in the community.

The county wants permission to adopt the new standards on Saturday, June 6.

If the governor agrees, theaters, swimming pools, bowling alleys, batting cages, jet boats, axe throwing and arcades in a county can reopen as long as they follow strict social distancing and sanitization requirements.

Face masks will still be required for restaurant and bar employees and retail store workers.

In the next phase, restaurants and bars can extend their hours to midnight, allow more tables and lower the physical distancing threshold. That includes allowing partitions between booths.

Gardens and museums would be allowed a limited reopening under the next phase.

Larger gatherings would be allowed. Now restricted to no more than 25, county groups could be up to 50 people indoors and 100 people outdoors, while youth sports activities – with proper physical distancing – would be allowed as well as overnight youth camps.

Specific details on reopening of pools and youth camps is expected from the state soon, said Sarah Poe, Malheur County Health Department director.

Increased travel would be allowed along with the green light for a limited return to work for all non-essential employees.

On the health side, the county has to demonstrate that at least 95% of all new COVID-19 cases can be traced to a source within 24 hours.

Also, a minimum of 70% of new COVID-19 positive cases must be traced to an existing positive case and there can be no “significant increase to an existing positive case.”

There also cannot be a 5% or greater boost in new COVID-19 cases in Malheur County over the most recent seven days. Also, according to the governor’s draft, there cannot be “a significant increase in the percentage of positive cases out of total tests in your county over the past seven days.”

Poe said the county meets all of the health benchmarks to move into the next phase.

“I think our community has done a good job reopening. Also, we’ve done a good job in contact tracing and quarantining to reduce the risk of an outbreak,” said Poe.

The governor permitted Malheur County to move into the first phase of the three-phase reopening plan May 15.

As of Monday, the county health department reported 32 COVID-19 cases, including 24 people who have recovered from the virus. None of the cases required hospitalization. In all, 757 people have been tested, with 725 negative results.

News tip? Contact reporter Pat Caldwell at [email protected].


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