Oregon's economic reopening likely will be more gradual than what President Donald Trump has suggested, according to Gov. Kate Brown. Churches, theaters, gyms and sporting events initially would remain closed.
Other business re-openings from the COVID-19 pandemic are under study.
Brown and her staff shared her current thinking with legislators and county commissioners on Monday, April 20. The governor's "Reopening Oregon: A Framework for Restarting Public Life and Business" combines concepts Brown released last week and the that Trump announced a couple of days later.
Brown's staff cautioned that the ideas were still being reviewed. The goal is to release a more detailed draft plan next week. Work groups are preparing proposals on personal services, such as hair salons; sit-down dining; bars; and other areas. Additional child care facilities also would be reopened in the first phase, but schools would remain closed.
Much of the phased plan, including resumption of non-emergency medical and dental procedures, would roll out regionally.
"A lot of states are taking statewide approaches, and the governor has been pretty consistent in telling us, 'Look, I want to be able to do this in a regional way,'" said Nik Blosser, Brown's chief of staff.
Those geographical considerations include the regional capacity for COVID-19 testing, contract tracing and hospitalization, along with evidence that the growth in cases was subsiding. Each county would have to submit a formal request to Brown, including commitments to have adequate personal protective equipment and, in the event of a surge in cases, available hospital beds.
Officials in Harney County asked Brown to let it become a pilot project for reopening Oregon. The frontier county has a small population, many businesses and individuals are hurting, and there have been no reported COVID-19 cases.
"There's no curve to flatten out here. We never had a bump in the road. That's what's really eating at people," County Judge Pete Runnels said, adding that Oregon must adjust to living with the threat of coronavirus.
To meet the framework outlined by Brown, the county would need state help in acquiring personal protective equipment. The local hospital could treat up to two, possibly three, cases at a time. Any positive case would require 20 hours of research to trace the person's contacts, according to Runnels.
During a phone call Monday afternoon with county officials and Rep. Mark Owens, R-Crane, the governor acknowledged the proposal but did not promise what would happen, Runnels said.
"I don't know if they understand the urgency of how dire it is for some," he said of Brown and her staff. "They hear us but they don't feel us."
Dr. Bob Dannenhoffer, the Douglas County health officer and a member of Brown's coronavirus medical advisory panel, said he knew of nowhere in the nation that was yet prepared to meet even the broad guidelines of the federal plan. Those guidelines include sufficient personal protective gear, robust testing and an army of people to follow up on cases.
"If somebody can show me that their area is ready, I'd love to see that," he said. "Nobody has taken me up on that."
Dannenhoffer said he could not forecast when any Oregon county would be ready.
"I think anybody who would try to project the future is being somewhat foolish, because we really have to see what happens with case counts. We have to see what happens with testing. We have to see what happens with PPE. These are all things that are out of anybody's control," he said, emphasizing that the views were his own and not those of the governor's panel.
But Deschutes County Commissioner Patti Adair said it's about time to responsibly start reopening the economy by allowing health practitioners to resume non-emergency procedures and letting restaurants, hairdressers and other businesses reopen with effective social distancing and related protective measures.
Adair said local businesspeople have come up with great ideas, which she was forwarding to the governor's office.
"I really worry," she said. "We have more people in Deschutes County on unemployment than a lot of other counties do."
Adair was not fully reassured by a conference call that Brown had Monday with county commissioners across the state: "The first thing she said was that the virus was in charge, and I found that frustrating."
Dick Hughes is a freelance journalist who has covered Oregon issues since 1976. Contact him at TheHughesisms@Gmail.com. The Oregon Capital Bureau is a consortium of Oregon newspaper chains, including Pamplin Media group.