A Covid testing kit is ready at a Nyssa drive-thru testing site earlier this year. Area lawmakers want Gov. Kate Brown to loosen Covid restrictions and laid out their plan in a three-page letter Wednesday, Nov. 18. (Kezia Setyawan/The Enterprise)

VALE – Malheur County officials joined more than 50 other elected officials to urge Gov. Kate Brown to fully open restaurants, bars, schools, state agencies, the hospitality industry and churches.

The plea, in a letter to the governor dated Wednesday, Nov. 18, came on the same day that Malheur County and the rest of the state went into a two-week freeze of some business activities to stop the spread of the Covid virus.

Brown’s new Covid mandates restricted indoor and outdoor gatherings, slashed the number of people that can attend faith-based gatherings and required restaurants and bars to provide only takeout service.

The letter by 52 state legislators and county commissioners wants the governor to reverse all Covid restrictions. 

The letter labels the governor’s new mandates as a “one-size-fits-all” method that is not necessary.

“It is time to reevaluate the metrics and the ever-changing goal posts related to slowing the spread of Covid-19 in our rural, semi-rural, eastern and frontier communities,” said the letter.

In the letter, lawmakers said “we must make significant changes to the way our systems are being managed going forward.”

The hospitality industry, restaurants and bars must stay open because “data shared by OHA (Oregon Health Authority) does not show any indication that our restaurants and bars are the cause of increased cases.”

“In addition, our hospitality industry is responsible of employing tens of thousands of Oregonians and keeping our already-fragile economy moving,” said the letter.

Schools not only should open for in-person instruction but extracurricular activities should be reinstated, according to the letter.

In Malheur County, small districts such as Jordan Valley are fully open while others can provide no more than two hours a day of class time to students.

“If it is safe for college athletes to return to sports, assuredly it is safe for high school students. Parents need to be able to return to work, and our students and teachers need the stability of the classroom,” said the letter.

State agencies – specifically Oregon Driver and Motor Vehicles Division – also need to be accessible.

“Those agencies are funded with public dollars and our public needs full access to these essential services,” lawmakers wrote.

Churches also need to be fully open.

“Most churches and places of worship will be and have been more than scrupulous in protecting their congregations from harm from Covid-19,” said the letter.

More shutdowns because of Covid, the letter said, are “not sustainable.”

The letter urged the governor to “consider a more realistic approach.”

“We are having these conversations now, and more importantly, we are taking the necessary steps to develop these plans so we can act and move our unique regions forward towards a sustainable, viable future. Somethings has to change, and we’re prepared to move ahead,” the letter said.

The letter was signed by area state Sen. Lynn Findley, R-Vale, state Rep. Mark Owens, R-Crane, Malheur County Commissioners Don Hodge and Larry Wilson and County Judge Dan Joyce.

Commissioners from Morrow, Union, Wallowa, Polk, Umatilla, Baker, Lake, Jefferson Harney, Grant, Klamath, Deschutes and Crook counties also signed.

Joyce said the letter was “long overdue.”

“We’ve had this conversation for eight months,” said Joyce.

He said the Covid issue presents “more questions than answers.”

“You have 10 doctors on the left and 10 doctors on the right but there is no peer group review of any of the information that anyone can share,” said Joyce.

Joyce said the governor’s mandates are “killing businesses without science.”

“We are not going to stop it. The more we shut down the higher the incidence rate goes up. Why?” said Joyce.

Yet doctors from the Treasure Valley’s largest medical operations said earlier this week the number of Covid cases are growing and beginning to clog their systems.

“These numbers of terrifying,” said Dr. Richard Augustus, chief medical officer of West Valley Medical Center. “It’s real. It’s not made up.”

The panel of doctors urged the public to control the virus by wearing masks, keeping social distancing in mind and washing hands – a trifecta of advice that has been in place for months.

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

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