By News-Register wire services • News-Register wire services • 

Oregon releases new framework for counties following 'freeze'


SALEM — Bars and restaurants can reopen for limited outdoor service next week but many restrictions will remain in place until a vaccine against the coronavirus is widely available, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown said on Wednesday.

State officials also announced vaccines would soon be coming to Oregon, though details remained unclear.

Yamhill County is among 21 Oregon counties designated as “extreme risk," the highest of four risk categories. "Extreme" means more than 200 cases per 100,000 over 14 days, for counties with populations greater than 30,000. A new 14-day measuring period started Sunday, meaning limited indoor dining could be allowed in Yamhill County starting Dec. 6 if cases slow.

Yamhill County reported 24 cases on Tuesday and 12 new cases on Wednesday, bringing the county to 1,615 cases to date.

The revamped restrictions to combat the surge in COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations take effect when the current two-week “freeze” expires on Dec. 3. Currently, only take-out restaurant service is allowed. The restaurant industry pushed hard against the restrictions as several eateries closed for good and others were at risk of doing so.

Under the new phases of restrictions, counties at extreme risk could have outdoor dining with maximum 50 capacity. Indoor dining, not to exceed 25% capacity, would be allowed for counties at high risk (100 to 200 cases per 100,000), and with 50% capacity in counties designated as moderate (50 to 100 per 100,000) or lower risk (under 50 cases per 100,000).

State epidemiologist Dean Sidelinger said outdoor dining does not mean eating in a place enclosed by cloth or plastic walls, as some restaurants had erected as the weather turns cold and rainy in Oregon. He said a roof is allowed, but three sides should be open.

Asked if at a virtual news conference if she was bending to industry pressure, Brown said: “I'm in the business, frankly, of saving lives and also preserving livelihoods.”

State officials also said they expect to receive enough doses from the federal government in December to vaccinate 30,000 people, with priority given to health care workers caring for COVID-19 patients.

“Until our COVID-19 vaccines are widely available, health and safety precautions will remain in place so that our schools, our businesses and our communities can reopen and stay open,” Brown said.

Patrick Allen, director of the Oregon Health Authority, or OHA, said details are still muddled.

He told reporters that he spoke on the phone Tuesday with a general from Operation Warp Speed, the federal government’s partnership with private pharmaceutical companies to develop a COVID-19 vaccine.

“There's still a lot of lack of clarity,” Allen said, adding that Oregon needs more vaccines than are initially coming but he expects the number to increase rapidly, especially if multiple vaccines are distribute.

The OHA also reported 1,189 new confirmed and presumptive cases of COVID-19, bringing the state total to 68,503. Another 20 people in the state have died because of the virus, raising the state’s known death toll to 867. A single-day record of 21 deaths were reported Tuesday.

The number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients across Oregon increased to 489, with 113 in intensive care units. Oregon has a total of 146 adult ICU beds, according to the OHA.

Officials said more of a concern than lack of hospital beds is that there may not be enough health care workers to handle a great surge in coronavirus infections.

Brown pleaded with Oregonians to stay safe during the Thanksgiving holidays, and protect others, by not ignoring safety protocols, like wearing masks and limiting personal contacts.

“Please, please make smart choices this holiday weekend that will protect you, your family and your neighbors,“ she told a Zoom news conference. ”Irresponsible behavior over Thanksgiving, at best, will only make the pandemic last longer. At worst, it will send one of your loved ones to the ICU.”



Preserving livelihoods? Not so much.

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