New limits take hold in Malheur County as Covid case counts head back up

Perk Beverage Company in Vale remained open this week for to-go and drive-through orders during the statewide coronavirus restaurant closure earlier this year. The business plans a similar approach during a new “pause” imposed by the state. (The Enterprise/file)

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VALE – Malheur County entered a new phase of limits to control the coronavirus Wednesday, a day after the county posted the highest one-day total of new cases in three months.

Gov. Kate Brown imposed statewide restrictions on some businesses and ordered a limit on social gatherings, seen as a prime reason Oregon’s infection rate is out of control.

Just hours before the new limits took hold, the governor announced she is sending $55 million to counties to pass on to employers and workers hurt by the new order. Every county is to get at least $500,000.

As of Wednesday, restaurants and bars in Malheur County and across the state are limited to takeout service and can no longer offer on-site dining. Area restaurants anticipate laying off employees during the pause.

The new restrictions are scheduled to last at least two weeks, but could last even longer in highly infected areas, such as Malheur County.

The new limit also shut gyms and venues for most events.

Most business operations in Malheur County, however, won’t be impacted. They have to continue requiring customers and employees to wear masks and to assure people can stay 6 feet away from each other. The state order said retailers could allow no more than 75% of the people legally allowed in their buildings, a limit expected to have little affect in the county.

Employers are required to have workers work from home as possible or otherwise follow strict social media and masking rules in the office.

The executive order also mandates that social gatherings, including home events, be limited to six people from no more than two households. That requirement has triggered some public backlash as people prepare for traditional Thanksgiving holiday meals. A Clackamas County commissioner has publicly declared she won’t follow the rule and instead have as many people over for the holiday as she can.

In announcing the new measures last week, Brown said she intends to have police enforce all the limits, including on private social gatherings. Under her order, a violator can be charged with a misdemeanor punishable by up to 30 days in jail and a fine up to $1,250.

But a joint statement from the state’s law enforcement agencies said police would instead focus on education instead of arrests and citation. The statement was put out by the Oregon State Police, the Oregon State Sheriffs’ Association, and the Oregon Association of Chiefs of Police.

“We recognize the inconvenience the pandemic and subsequent restrictions have caused all of us,” the statement said. “We also know that the risk to our most vulnerable populations is extremely high at this time and we urge everyone to follow these restrictions.”

The statement said that police “cannot arrest or enforce out way out of the pandemic” and urged those who see violations to call state administrative agencies instead of police. They said workplace violations can be reported to Oregon OSHA and complaints about restaurants and bars can go to OSHA or the Oregon Liquor Control Commission.

DOCUMENT: Gov. Kate Brown’s executive order

On Tuesday, the Malheur County Health Department reported 33 new cases of Covid detected and just six negative tests. That produced a testing positive rate of 85% – remarkably high when the state standard to consider an outbreak under control is 5%. The county has recorded 2,225 Covid cases since last March and counts 1,849 people as recovered. The county also said eight people were hospitalized with Covid.

A panel of medical doctors from the area’s largest hospitals and clinics said on Tuesday that they expected hospitalizations to double by Christmas and triple within two months. They said that if that occurs, hospitals will have to ration medical care, choosing which patients get lifesaving care and which do not.


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Malheur County faces a holiday shutdown as new state Covid restrictions take hold

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