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Residents Of Rural Oregon Towns Ask Urban Dwellers To Stay Home

A strip of cellophane sticks out from the sand on Cannon Beach.
A strip of cellophane sticks out from the sand on Cannon Beach.

Some rural communities have been disrupted and upset by an influx of city dwellers vacationing in their towns, despite the governor's stay-at-home order.

Doug Hoschek has been counting cars in the driveways of Sunriver rental homes. 

Hoschek is a full-time resident of the 1,400-person Deschutes County town, and he's alarmed by an abundance of unfamiliar license plates. He thinks some tourists are ignoring Gov. Kate Brown’s stay-at-home order, traveling to the popular vacation town and putting his older community in danger of a COVID-19 outbreak. 

“There's been enough Washington cars down here to choke a chicken,” Hoschek said. “What we hope will happen is, people will respect us as we respect them. We’re not getting in our cars and going over to Portland and checking into hotels.”

Despite Brown’s March 23 stay-at-home order and local government bans on short-term rentals, residents of Oregon’s rural and vacation communities say outsiders are still visiting — for day trips, or even longer stays, which enforcement might not catch.

Cannon Beach resident Austin Raglione saw a significant decrease in tourist activity after Brown’s order. But lately, she said, that's changed.

“I think people are, for whatever reason, not staying home as much as they used to,” she said. “When the weather is nice is when you see more people coming in and walking around on the beach with groups.”

Raglione, who is immunocompromised and going through chemotherapy treatment for cancer, said she noticed non-residents hanging out and drinking on the beach over Easter weekend. 

“There’s a lot of older people who live here, and people who have underlying medical conditions,” she said. “It’s the cavalier attitude — like, do you know what's going on in the world? Do you not understand that we all have a responsibility to protect each other and protect ourselves?”

Tillamook Mayor Suzanne Weber told " Think Out Loud" that her community was overrun with tourists before Brown’s order. Thirty phone calls, 15 emails and several texts from her constituents prompted her to post a video on Facebook on March 21, asking people to stay home. 

“All of these people are coming here. And we can't even go to church, but they can come in here and recreate? This is not fair,” Weber said on Think Out Loud Thursday. 

But Weber said she has noticed a significant reduction in tourists, and she hopes it will stay that way.

“People don't mind if they come here to enjoy their second home, but it’s not an open-door policy where they come for the weekend,” she said. “You're potentially putting the people who clean the houses and who are working in the grocery stores in danger.”

Weber, Hoschek and Raglione all said they feel their communities are serious about social distancing and wearing masks. They said their small local hospitals, with few beds and limited personal protective equipment, would be overwhelmed by a COVID-19 outbreak. 

They just asked that outsiders not treat their towns as quarantine vacation spots.

To hear more from Think Out Loud's conversation about rural quarantine concerns, press the "play" button at the top of the page.

Copyright 2020 Oregon Public Broadcasting

Tess Novotny