Two out of three Deschutes County commissioners signed a letter asking Gov. Kate Brown to reconsider the restrictions that will again be placed on restaurants as more counties move into the extreme risk category.
The letter, which was written by the Association of Oregon Counties and the Oregon Restaurant & Lodging Association, was signed by about 80 county commissioners across the state, including Commission Chair Tony DeBone and Commissioner Patti Adair.
The extreme risk level, which will go into effect in Deschutes County on Friday, shuts down indoor dining, limits crowd sizes, caps entertainment and exercise activities and requires most businesses to close by 11 p.m.
The four area hospitals run by St. Charles were at 92% capacity as of Monday.
In general, the letter asserts the restaurant industry is being singled out unfairly, and that these regulations are causing rifts in communities.
“The time has come to allow our communities the opportunity to move forward while embracing continued health and safety precautions,” the letter writes.
“Our people understand the risks associated with COVID and our businesses have proven their ability to adhere to the highest expectations in safety, sanitation, and air quality. It is no coincidence Oregon has not seen one instance of a super spreader event tied to our hospitality industry.”
The letter writes that the vast majority of the state’s population most susceptible to serious illness from COVID-19 has been vaccinated, and that a documented case today “does not carry with it the same weight” as cases documented when there was no vaccine.
“The variants are indeed troublesome, and we share your concern for their spread,” the letter writes. “But shutting down our restaurants and further depriving Oregonians of their right to make calculated community engagement risks when the virus continues to spread elsewhere will not result in success.”
DeBone said he recognizes case counts are rising and thinks it is important to address, and said he signed onto the letter because he feels it is unfair to shut down business when much of the transmission of COVID-19 is coming from social gatherings or private events.
He also noted that Deschutes County hasn’t seen much protest to following safety guidelines like wearing masks and distancing at restaurants.
“We do need to respect what’s going on, but shutting down restaurants and businesses is not the conclusion I would reach,” DeBone said.
Adair, the other commissioner to sign, said in a text message Wednesday it was time for the state to move forward.
“Too many small businesses can NOT endure another lockdown,” she wrote.
The one commissioner who did not sign on, Phil Chang, said he did not feel comfortable signing onto a letter that asks for fewer restrictions at time when Deschutes County is seeing its highest weekly case count since the pandemic began.
“We have to do everything we can to contain this virus at this point,” Chang said.
Chang noted he too feels like the restrictions are unfair to businesses, because most of the spread does not appear to be happening from restaurants or businesses.
That being said, restaurants still present a risk, Chang said, given that restaurants gather people from different households in an indoor space to engage in activity that requires taking a mask off.
“While restaurants are not the heart of the problem, they have a role to play when it comes to containing COVID,” Chang said.