Vale city officials hope to be able to open the town pool by the middle of June as part of Malheur County's move into Phase 2 of a COVID-19 virus reopening plan. (The Enterprise/Rachel Parsons).

VALE – More people can gather indoors and outside of popular venues, and restaurants and taverns can now extend their hours after the county moved into Phase 2 of a COVID-19 virus reopening plan.

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown approved the county’s request to move into Phase 2 last week.

In Phase I, gatherings were capped at 25 people but that number is boosted – as long as proper social distancing measures are followed – to up to 50 people indoors and 100 people outside under Phase 2.

Area restaurants and bars are allowed to stay open until midnight under Phase 2. The Phase 1 threshold for bars and restaurants was 10 p.m.

The number of people who can gather and the extension of hours for bars and restaurants are the biggest changes between Phase 1 and Phase 2, according to Malheur County Health Director Sarah Poe.

That’s because, she said, Phase 2 guidance from the state is not as detailed as it was for the jump to Phase 1.

“Honestly there isn’t a ton of change in Phase 2. Phase 1 had so much to the point where we had to do webinars. We talked about doing that this time but there isn’t a lot to go off.

“We are trying to take questions piece by piece and push them up to get those answers,” said Poe.

Also under Phase 2, Oregon theaters, bowling alleys, spas and arcades can reopen – as long as they follow stringent social distancing and sanitization criteria. Some non-contact sports – such as tennis – are also allowed under Phase 2.

In Vale, the big change from Phase 1 to Phase 2 will be the reopening of the city pool.

Vale City Manager Russ Kirkpatrick said he hopes to reopen the pool later this month.

“That’s what I have been working on all week, trying to get the pool up and going,” said Kirkpatrick.

Kirkpatrick said his goal now is to open the pool between June 15 and June 20. The timing is uncertain, however, because of a broken pipe that brings hot water to heat the pool from the geothermal wells southeast of town.

“Hopefully, we can get the geothermal line fixed so that will start heating the pool. It takes a good three to four days to heat it up to about 87 degrees,” said Kirkpatrick.

The city must also re-certify lifeguards and that “is like a two-day process,” he said.

For the Four Rivers Cultural Center in Ontario, Phase 2 means director Matt Stringer can open the Meyer McLean Performing Arts Theater, the facility garden, gift shop and museum.

“We are wide open for meetings,” said Stringer.

Stringer said the cultural center will begin Phase 2 operations on Monday.

“The staff of the cultural center is very excited because if you are willing to come here, we are here waiting for you,” said Stringer.

He said almost all of the traditional events – such as the outdoor concert series Live After Five held in the facility’s Hikaru Mizu Japanese Garden – are canceled for the year.

Stringer said a performance by the Missoula Children’s Theater – set for July 6 – is still scheduled. Also, “Cinderella,” presented by the Eugene Ballet Company, is still on for Oct. 13. A performance by magician Matt Johnson will be Nov. 20.

While some of the Phase 2 rules are straightforward, questions remain about other issues.

For example, does the boost in the number of people who can gather outside mean a condensed version of the Malheur County Fair will be possible?

“That is a really big question and I don’t have the answer right now,” said Malheur County Health Department Director Sarah Poe.

Poe said faith-based organizations and churches under specific circumstances – such as strict social distancing – can allow up to 250 people.

“But we don’t have specific guidance about fairs,” said Poe.

Other detailed questions – such as whether swimming lessons can be organized, for example – remain unanswered, said Poe.

“At this point things are not as specific and we are trying to get feedback on them from the state,” said Poe.

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

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