Just two weeks ago, hardly anyone had heard of “social distancing.”
Today, it’s a buzzword bandied about on hiking trails, grocery store aisles and at dog parks. But for health professionals, trying to slow the spread of the highly contagious and potentially fatal COVID-19, it’s no joking matter.
The reality that many Oregonians seem to not be taking social distancing seriously, crowding parks and tourist towns over the weekend, is cause for alarm and has forced Gov. Kate Brown to shut down much of everyday life.
As spring break officially started, large numbers of people were recreating in the Deschutes National Forest at some of the most popular sites: Tumalo Falls, Meissner Sno-park, Wanoga Sno-park sledding area and Deschutes River Trail.
At dog parks, people still brought their pets to socialize, often breaking the recommended 6-foot social distancing rule.
“People need to be isolated in their homes to slow the spread of the disease,” said Dr. Jeff Absalon, St. Charles Health System chief physician executive. “It appears that it’s business as usual in our community.”
Central Oregon wasn’t alone with folks flocking outside. Brown on Monday admonished members of the public for crowding beaches in coastal communities, trails, parks and city streets. Those actions, Brown said Monday, had the potential to spread COVID-19.
In reaction, the governor extended her executive order to include groups of any size, retail shopping, theaters, arcades, barbershops, gyms, skating rinks and yoga studios. Brown’s directive means playgrounds, sports courts, skate parks and other recreational facilities should be closed and the only ones open are those that can ensure social distancing guidelines.
Anyone caught violating that order is subject to a misdemeanor and can end in an arrest as a last resort.
“We’re concerned about visitors still coming into the area, and we’re looking at what other cities have done,” said Bend Mayor Sally Russell. “We’re evaluating what that looks like for Bend.”
At this time, Russell said, no other restrictions are planned for in Bend.
In other parts of the country, the National Guard has been sent to the three hardest-hit states by the coronavirus — Washington, California and New York — to help guard shipments or offload food and supplies, but not maintain shelter-in-place orders.
“We’re evaluating the next step,” said Eric King, Bend city manager. “We’re looking at how to be more prescriptive to prevent leisure travelers from coming into the area providing a risk to the community from the perspective of health care capacity. “
Out on the trails, outdoors people may feel like they’re social distancing, but there’s no guarantee it is a disease-free zone, said Jean Nelson-Dean, Deschutes National Forest public affairs officer.
“People need to understand that any restroom or other facilities are only as clean as the last person who used those facilities,” Nelson-Dean said in an email. “People need to be prepared that restrooms may be closed or unsanitary. If there are no facilities, people should follow Leave No Trace guidelines when dealing with human waste.”
When going out to a public area, Nelson-Dean said people need to have a Plan B. If the first site is crowded, seek an alternate site to achieve social distancing.
“Social distancing alone won’t keep the surge below our capacity, but a shelter-in-place, or lockdown, will help slow the spread of the disease,” St. Charles’ Absalon said. “If we have a more stringent approach to distancing, like sheltering (in) place, we might be able to delay or postpone a surge. All of these social actions are aimed at flattening the curve.”
In cooperation with the governor’s order, the Bend Park & Recreation District closed playgrounds, sports courts, exercise equipment and skate parks Monday. People can still come to a park to run, walk, bike, skate or use a wheelchair, and off-leash parks are still open. The park district said restrooms will remain open.
“We have a problem with our own local community,” King said. “We have to maintain social distancing. The change in the weather this week might help — a colder, rainier pattern is predicted.”