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UPDATED: Southern Oregon Businesses Prepare for Phase 1 Reopening

A deserted street in downtown Ashland during the COVID-1 pandemic and shelter-in-place orders.
Erik Neumann/JPR
A deserted street in downtown Ashland during the COVID-1 pandemic and shelter-in-place orders.

Restaurants and bars across Southern Oregon are among the businesses preparing to reopen on Friday after 31 of Oregon’s 36 counties received approval from Gov. Kate Brown’s office to begin phase one of the state’s reopening plan.

In Southern Oregon, Lake, Klamath, Jackson, Josephine, Douglas, Curry and Coos County have received approval to begin phase one.

At Ashland’s Brickroom restaurant visitors will see fewer tables, more protective plexiglass screens in front of the bar, and traffic flow patterns on the floor. Eli Katkin is the owner of the Brickroom. He’s been working on putting these safety measures in place.

“The goal is to figure out how we provide safety information and provide a safe space while still being able to make people feel comfortable. It’s going to be a very difficult balance,” he says.

Katkin is one of many business owners, along with hair stylists, massage therapists, and others, preparing for phase one of the state’s reopening plan. Gyms can open with limited capacity, though health officials said on Thursday that more guidance for them will likely come on Friday. Retailers that incorporate social distancing guidelines will also be allowed to open starting on Friday.

Many in the food and beverage industry are feeling the pressure to reopen but also working through the logistics of acquiring sufficient protective equipment like gloves and hand sanitizer to do it safely, as well as enough staff and food.

“I feel like we would be on pace to be able to get open by Friday except for not knowing when to bring in perishables,” Katkin says.

According to Brad Hicks, president of the Medford Chamber of Commerce, many restaurants are considering a delayed opening after May 15.

“A lot of them are targeting a date a week, maybe two weeks beyond that just to make sure that they’re doing things the right way,” Hicks says. “That they know that they can actually afford to deliver those products and services in this new fashion.”

In order to receive approval to reopen counties needed to demonstrate they have infrastructure and supplies to deal with an increase in cases of COVID-19.

During a press conference on Thursday Brown acknowledged that reopening comes with risk and will likely result in more cases of the coronavirus, which has no treatment or vaccine.

“The prerequisites that we laid out were an excellent roadmap for counties to be prepared for future challenges,” Brown said. “We are all much better prepared now than we were before going through this exercise.”

Erik Neumann is JPR's news director. He earned a master's degree from the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism and joined JPR as a reporter in 2019 after working at NPR member station KUER in Salt Lake City.