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Oregon, California Counties Consider Requests To Reopen Non-essential Businesses

Closed business in downtown Ashland.
Erik Neumann | JPR News
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A business remains closed in downtown Ashland amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Local officials in rural counties across Southern Oregon and Northern California are requesting that governors allow them to open non-essential businesses.

Jackson, Josephine, and Douglas county commissioners are among those in Southern Oregon who are considering sending letters to Gov. Kate Brown. They say they’re ready to reopen small non-essential businesses like small retail shops and possibly beauty salons.

Brown has issued guidelines for when rural counties could reopen nonessential businesses — for instance, their hospitals have to have sufficient protective equipment like masks available.

Jackson County fits the bill, according to medical director Jim Shames.

“I think we’ve followed the governor’s guidelines,” Shames says. “We’ve been blessed by being somewhat rural. And we’ve had very few cases identified in the last few weeks.”

Shames says when reopening does happen, it will be a slow process, one that county officials are still working out. While Jackson County doesn’t require everyone to wear face masks, as some California counties do, Shames recommends everyone to wear one when they’re out.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom has not issued similar reopening guidelines to its rural counties. Leaders of six counties in the North State sent a letter to Newsom last week asking that he allow them to reopen. They included Tehama County.

“There’s a lot of small mom-and-pop businesses that, in most cases, they have rent to pay on the building or a mortgage to pay,” says Tehama Board of Supervisors Chair Bob Williams. “They have employees that they’ve had to let go. And they’re hurting.”

He says business owners don’t understand why a large retail store like Walmart can continue to sell non-essential items like flowers, but a small-town florist can’t.

Tehama County has tested more than 200 people, and all but one were negative. The one person who tested positive for the coronavirus died in mid-April.

Other rural counties in the North State are considering making similar requests to reopen, including Shasta and Siskiyou counties.

April Ehrlich is an editor and reporter at Oregon Public Broadcasting. Previously, she was a news host and reporter at Jefferson Public Radio.