The Malheur County Court approved a resolution Wednesday to limit the size of indoor and outdoor gatherings in response to a surge in Covid cases. (CDC file art)

VALE – The Malheur County Court Wednesday imposed new local limits on indoor and outdoor gatherings as health officials scramble to contain a surge in local Covid cases.

A Covid count of 449 cases – including a 16.4 percent positive test rate - in the county as of Monday punctuated the decision by the court.

The resolution creates several short-term measures that take immediate effect that are seen as key to halting the current surge in Covid cases. They include:

·     No group of 10 or more individuals are to socially gather indoors.

·     No group of 25 or more individuals are to gather outdoors;

·     Groups of less than 10 people who gather indoors are to wear face coverings, observe social distancing guidelines and keep six feet apart.

·     Groups of less than 25 people gathering outdoors are to wear face coverings, observe social distancing guidelines and keep six feet apart.

The resolution covers local social gatherings – such as civic, cultural and private assemblies – along with private events like “backyard weddings, private rodeo clubs, parties, book clubs and nonprofit events.”

The county resolution will run until Aug. 5.

The resolution, though, does not interfere with a host of other businesses and services which are to operate under the state’s Phase 2 reopening plan.

For example, the resolution doesn’t impact area grocery stores, pharmacies, banks, credit unions, gas stations, restaurants, bars or other retail businesses. Churches and “faith-based” gatherings as well as salons, barbers, gyms and farmer’s markets are also to follow Phase 2 reopening guidance.

Local school reopening plans are not impacted by the resolution.

On Monday, Gov. Kate Brown announced a statewide ban on any indoor gatherings of more than 10 people to begin Wednesday, July 15.

The state gathering ban also doesn’t apply to businesses or churches.

The governor said state health data illustrated that half of Oregon’s new cases of Covid are infecting people under 40 and one-third are under the age of 30.

“The resolution is a way to respond to what is happening in our community and it is right for our community. Likely, it is not enough, but it is a step in the right direction,” said Sarah Poe, Malheur County Health Department director.

As of the morning of Wednesday, July 15, Oregon reported 12,810 Covid cases.

“I feel like we are addressing this in a specific way and trying to make a small, voluntary step over three weeks to see if it will address this specific need,” Poe told the court.

The resolution could be extended if the case rate over the two-week period does not fall.

The two tools of enforcement called for in the resolution are education and warnings.

According to the resolution, “If a consultative approach does not result in compliance, more serious and additional action by the County Court, as the local public health authority, or local public health administrator, will be warned under ORS Chapter 431. Temporary permits will not be issued by the Malheur County Environmental Health Department for events or gatherings anticipated to be in violation of this resolution.”

During a discussion period at the meeting, Don Hodge, Malheur County commissioner, asked Poe about a question he’s faced from local voters concerning Covid deaths.

 “I have heard from a 100 different people that if it is considered a Covid death, I keep hearing the federal government is paying money. If it is a Covid death, they are paying for it,” said Hodge.

“That’s not true,” said Poe. “Where is that question coming from? We hear it all the time.”

News tip? Contact reporter Pat Caldwell at [email protected] or 541-473-3377.

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