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Counties Across Southern Oregon File With State To Reopen Commerce

Dave Blanchard/OPB
The Josephine County courthouse in Grants Pass

Rural counties throughout Southern Oregon have begun submitting applications for Gov. Kate Brown’s Phase 1 plan to start reopening businesses on May 15.

Josephine, Jackson, Klamath and Coos Counties are among those that have submitted applications stating that they meet the prerequisites in the Governor’s plan, including declining COVID-19 prevalence and adequate public health supplies and infrastructure to deal with a possible increase of cases.

“We reviewed them and they were reasonable to us,” says Melissa Cribbins, board chair of the Coos County Board of Commissioners. “We were able to put together an application package within a couple days that we feel will keep our citizens safe and still allow some businesses to reopen.”

Counties could submit applications starting on May 8. If approved, they will begin Phase 1 of the Governor’s reopening plan.

Phase 1 will enable restaurants and bars to open for dine-in customers with the requirement of six-foot social distancing in place. Salons and barber shops can open and massage therapists can practice with some requirements like the use of personal protective equipment and recording customers’ names because of the risk of spreading the virus. Gyms and fitness centers will be allowed to open but will require limited numbers of customers, physical distancing and sanitation of equipment. Local gatherings of groups up to 25 people are tentatively included in Phase 1.

Josephine County Commissioner Lily Morgan helped submit their application, though she says, the standards from the state have been unclear.

“The goals have not been clearly defined from the beginning and the goals have changed along the way,” Morgan says, “But we are doing our best to continue to gather information and provide it to the state.”

Brown’s office laid out seven prerequisites to being approved for the first of a three-phase plan before full reopening can occur.

Counties must demonstrate they have declining hospitalizations from COVID-19 for 14 days and maintain a baseline number of emergency room visits for COVID-like illnesses. They must have testing supplies at a rate of 30 tests per 100,000 people per week, 15 contact tracers per 100,000 people, and a 14-day supply of personal protective equipment for small and rural hospitals. Counties also need access to isolation facilities and hospital bed space for a possible 20% surge in cases.

“The more rural a county is, subject to capacity to be able to do contact tracing and quarantine and isolation support, probably the more likely it is to be in a position to successfully apply,” said Patrick Allen, the director of the Oregon Health Authority during a press conference on Thursday.

After counties have met the Phase 1 requirements for 21 days they’ll be approved to move to the next phase of the state’s reopening plan.

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.