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Return to ‘Extreme Risk’ brings back outdoor dining only, gym limits; C.O. businesses upset

(Update: Adding video, comments by businesses)

Gov. Brown boosts outdoor capacity from 50 to 100 people, says risk move 'will save lives,' avoid higher hospitalizations

SISTERS, Ore. (KTVZ) -- John Hicks has more reason to go to the gym than most.

"I'm in treatment for cancer,” he told NewsChannel 21 on Tuesday. “And my doctors have encouraged me to be active."

But working out at the Sisters Athletic Club is about to get a lot harder for him.

"It's not a situation of our choosing," he said.

Gov. Kate Brown announced Deschutes, Crook and 13 other counties will be moving back to the “Extreme Risk” category for COVID-19. That means only six guests will be allowed in each building, at the Sisters Athletic Club and other gyms that have spaces larger than 500 square feet.

Club owner Tate Metcalf said, "I'd say for our industry, we'd like to be a little bit more of the solution, instead of being victimized and strategically targeted."

He added that he wasn’t sure how the gym will enforce the required 25 feet between households.

Metcalf said he reviewed the Oregon Health Authority's weekly outbreak reports and didn’t find a single one traced to a health club.

"It's going to greatly, greatly negatively impact my members, who have finally been vaccinated," he said. "They're finally back in the routine of exercising."

Of course, the move back to Extreme Risk doesn't just affect gyms. It also severely limits indoor entertainment venues, like the Old Mill Regal Cinemas which will be closed in Bend again -- just a week after reopening.

It will also limit restaurants to just outdoor dining, though at double the previous maximum capacity, of 100 people, as outdoor mask rules change.

However, two restaurants that closed the last time Deschutes County went into extreme risk, the Pine Tavern and RiverPig in Bend, say they will stay open this time, despite no indoor dining.

But that doesn't mean they like it.

Pine Tavern owner Bill McCormick said, "It's overkill. I wish there'd be more statistical consideration when these leaders decide to shut something down."

Sean Lawrence, the general manager of RiverPig, added, "The mandates keep changing back and forth, make it really tough for businesses like ourselves to really plan ahead."

This time, they can have up to 100 people outdoors, double the previous limit of 50.

And for John Hicks, it's time to just get things over with.

"We're in a circumstance that compels us to do certain things to contend with it, and hopefully defeat it," he said.

Here's Tuesday's release from the governor's office:

SALEM, Ore. (KTVZ) -- (Salem, OR) — Due to the rapid spread of COVID-19 in Oregon, Gov. Kate Brown announced Tuesday that 15 counties, including Deschutes and Crook, will move back to the restrictive Extreme Risk category on Friday. But amid new federal outdoor mask guidelines, the outdoor capacity limit will be raised, from 50 to 100 people.

With hospitalizations rising above 300 people statewide, threatening to overwhelm doctors and nurses, 15 counties will move to the Extreme Risk level effective Friday, through Thursday, May 6. In addition, nine counties will be in the High Risk level, four at Moderate Risk, and eight at Lower Risk. A complete list of counties and their risk levels is available here.

“If we don’t act now, doctors, nurses, hospitals, and other health care providers in Oregon will be stretched to their limits treating severe cases of COVID-19,” Brown said. “Today’s announcement will save lives and help stop COVID-19 hospitalizations from spiking even higher. With new COVID-19 variants widespread in so many of our communities, it will take all of us working together to bring this back under control.”

Governor Brown also said she is partnering with lawmakers to approve a $20 million small business emergency relief package to immediately support impacted businesses in Extreme Risk counties through the commercial rent relief program.

In an effort to speed up the return to normal business operations, county COVID-19 data will be evaluated weekly for at least the next three weeks. Any updates to county risk levels next week will be announced on Tuesday, May 4 and take effect on Friday, May 7. Counties that improve their COVID-19 metrics will have the opportunity to move to a lower risk level. Counties will remain in Extreme Risk for a maximum of three weeks.

Brown added: “The fastest way to lift health and safety restrictions is for Oregonians to get vaccinated as quickly as possible and follow the safety measures we know stop this virus from spreading. I recognize the burden these restrictions place on Oregon businesses and working families. My goal is to lift these restrictions as soon as it is safely possible, and keep Oregon on the path for lifting most health and safety requirements by the end of June so we can fully reopen our economy. But we will only get there if enough Oregonians get vaccinated. There are appointments available right now all across the state.”

Governor partnering with Legislature for $20 million for immediate aid to businesses in Extreme Risk counties, announces updates to outdoor capacity limits

Governor Brown is also partnering with legislators on a $20 million emergency relief package to provide immediate aid to impacted businesses in Extreme Risk counties through the state’s commercial rent relief program.

Governor Brown continued: “After conversations with legislative leaders, I am confident we can move quickly to bring relief to businesses and their employees in Extreme Risk counties. The vast majority of Oregon businesses have followed our health and safety guidance to protect Oregonians from COVID-19, even though doing so has come with an economic cost. This emergency aid will help businesses in Extreme Risk counties.”

In addition, the governor announced that outdoor capacity limits for bars, restaurants, and other sectors will be raised from 50 to 100 people in Extreme Risk counties, with health and safety measures, including physical distancing, in place.

Brown added: “We know that the risk of COVID-19 transmission is lower outdoors. I am urging all Oregonians, if you choose to gather with others, keep it outdoors. Indoor transmission is a key driver in the COVID-19 surge that is making renewed health and safety restrictions necessary.”

The Oregon Health Authority will also be working to align Oregon's outdoor mask guidance with the CDC guidance announced Tuesday.

Three-week limit placed on Extreme Risk level, Portland-area hospitals to closely monitor capacity

Under the Risk Level framework, counties move to (or remain in) Extreme Risk when they meet the county metrics for case rates and percent positivity, and Oregon meets statewide hospitalization metrics: COVID-19 positive patients occupying 300 hospital beds or more, and a 15% increase in the seven-day hospitalization average over the past week.

Counties will stay in Extreme Risk for a maximum of three weeks, and will be able to move to a lower risk level sooner if their COVID-19 case rates are brought down in the intervening weeks, or if Oregon moves below 300 statewide hospitalizations or the seven-day hospitalization average percent increase goes below 15 percent.

The governor has also worked in partnership with Portland metro-area hospitals to ensure systems are in place to closely monitor and manage hospital capacity. Health systems in the Portland area are using the coordinated system developed at the beginning of the pandemic to manage hospital surge capacity, bed space, essential services, and non-urgent procedures as needed over the next three weeks in order to preserve hospital beds and critical care capacity.

Brown said: “I want to thank hospital and health care leaders for the work they are doing to manage hospital bed space, so that no Oregonian is turned away from receiving the health care they need. Now, I am asking Oregonians to do their part to help stop the spread of COVID-19 in our communities so we can help support our nurses, doctors, and frontline health care workers.”

The governor has asked hospital leaders to alert the Governor’s Office and OHA immediately if additional measures are needed to preserve hospital capacity.

If, after three weeks, Oregon still exceeds statewide hospitalization metrics and one or more counties still meet the case rates and percent positivity for Extreme Risk, the Oregon Health Authority will evaluate why and make recommendations to the Governor’s Office.

Deschutes County was among those who avoided an earlier return to Extreme Risk when the state was below a new trigger of 300 COVID-19 hospitalizations statewide -- a number that was topped on Monday, as experts had predicted.

Among the restrictions are the return of a ban on indoor dining, a limit of just six customers at indoor recreation facilities (just one customer and one employee at establishments smaller than 500 square feet) and the return of a requirement for offices to work from home.

Deschutes County recorded its highest weekly case count since the start of the pandemic last week, at more than 500 cases.

Article Topic Follows: Coronavirus

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Jack Hirsh

Jack Hirsh is a multimedia journalist for NewsChannel 21. Learn more about Jack here.


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