Scores of vehicles line the county fairgrounds at Ontario's Covid testing site on July 1. Another testing event is scheduled for Tuesday, Nov. 17. (The Enterprise/Rachel Parsons)
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Oregon’s business community isn’t happy with Gov. Kate Brown’s order last week that some businesses have to shut down or otherwise cut back on public service.
Business leaders say her choice to curtail business as one way to stop the spread of the coronavirus is wrong.
Brown on Friday said she had “no choice” but to stop dining across Oregon starting Wednesday, Nov. 18, and lasting at least two weeks. She is ordering gyms and other fitness centers to close, requiring employers to keep workers at home for their shifts as much as possible, and directing retailers to limit the number of people inside.
The new rules, described as a statewide “pause,” come as Covid is spreading at what public health officials say is an alarming rate.
Business leaders agree there is a health crisis – but they think Brown got it wrong in how to tackle it.
The most detailed response to the governor came in a four-page letter from the Coronavirus Recovery Business Coalition. The group is expansive, representing some of the state’s largest business groups such as Oregon Business Council, and industry sectors ranging from the Oregon Farm Bureau to the Oregon Winegrowers Association.
“We implore you to pause a moment and consider alternatives to renewed business closures and curtailed operations,” the coalition said in a letter dated Friday to Brown.
“We hope you will reconsider the very real impact such a decision will have on struggling businesses, the employees who may lose their jobs and our already troubled state economy,” the letter said.
The coalition said the new closures come as federal relief aid has expired and there is no sign Congress is ready to renew such programs.
The National Federation of Independent Business shared a grim forecast in its statement responding to Brown’s actions.
The group, representing small businesses, said that 40% of its members reported they may not last another year under current economic conditions.
“If economic conditions worsen, the timeline will likely shorten,” the statement said.
The organization echoed what other business leaders said – that Oregon’s problem is that people are still engaging in social gatherings that result in spreading the virus.
“It simply doesn’t make any sense to impose further restrictions on businesses that provide safer, regulated spaces for Oregonians to engage in economic and social activities in masked and socially distanced atmospheres,” the federation statement said.
The business coalition told Brown that “Oregonians seem complacent” about protocols such as wearing a mask and keeping social distance. The new restrictions won’t address that, the coalition said.
“Your focus must be on showing Oregonians how they can manage personal behaviors to improve safety to families, neighbors and themselves,” the coalition letter said.
The coalition recommended that Brown:
• Launch a new public affairs campaign to remind Oregonians of their personal responsibility to arrest the virus spread and that protecting their relatives and friends “is the best gift they can give this holiday season.”
• Find a way to increase rapid testing for the virus and expand efforts to trace those infected. The coalition said Oregon now has a “patchwork” of testing efforts.
• Establish a task force to determine what steps other states and countries have taken to limit community spread of the virus.
• Set up a new panel of business owners to evaluate programs in place to help businesses and propose new ways to help business and employees.
• Devise a plan to distribute any Covid vaccine, now expected to be available by the end of the year.
Sandra McDonough, president and CEO of Oregon Business and Industry, said the business coalition has been working with Brown’s staff and legislators to chart more actions to contain the virus.
“We’re not saying don’t do anything,” she said. “Let’s work on how do we make sure people understand what they can do to protect their families, co-workers and their friends.”
Brown has been signaling for weeks she may impose new limits and business leaders were aware restrictions were in the offing. They advised Brown of the economic costs.
“She knows we’re talking about putting people out of work and closing down business during a very critical time of the year,” McDonough said.
She said many businesses who had lost income in the early months of the pandemic had planned to make it up in the holiday season. Those plans are now jeopardized.
McDonough noted that wineries post their busiest time of the year in their tasting rooms in the weekend after Thanksgiving. They won’t be open this year.
“Those are a lot of pretty small businesses,” she said.
The Northwest Grocers Association joined the chorus of groups calling on Oregonians to follow the health measures long promoted by health authorities.
“We can’t stress enough the need to wear a mask at all times outside of the home,” the association said in a statement.
“Our store employees have been doing this for months and know that when they wear masks for an entire day’s work, they are protecting themselves, their co-workers and their community, and need the same consideration from all customers,” the association said.
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