Oregon Gov. Kate Brown announced Monday she is banning seated dining at the state’s bars and restaurants and prohibiting gatherings of more than 25 people, in the latest set of drastic actions meant to curb the spread of the coronavirus.
Restaurants can continue take-out and delivery options and the prohibition on gatherings will have an exemption for grocery stores and retail outlets. The ban starts Tuesday and is scheduled to last at least four weeks.
Violating the governor's executive order is a misdemeanor. Brown urged people to comply to limit spread of the coronavirus.
Brown also urged other businesses, such as gyms, to temporarily close their doors.
"Can your business do the equivalent of restaurant takeout?” the governor said.
If not, Brown said, she urged businesses to close their doors to customers.
The governor’s order comes after she faced increasing calls in recent days from health care professionals and business owners to shutter bars and restaurants and reduce large gatherings. Washington Gov. Jay Inslee announced Sunday night that bars and restaurants should close for in house dining.
Earlier in the day, Brown told reporters more drastic social distancing measures would be coming.
“It may seem like we’re in the middle of this, but in terms of timeline and impact we are really just in the beginning,” Brown said.
She added: “There’s no vaccine. There’s no medicine for coronavirus. And we know the virus is in our communities. The only thing we know to do is slow the transmission through social distancing and expand and support hospital capacity to support the sick. Guidelines on social distancing is a matter of life and death.”
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The state’s largest health care providers also announced they will form a partnership to have centralized organization against the coronavirus, and to make sure there are enough hospital beds available.
The state announced 8 new cases of COVID-19 on Monday. Oregon now has a total of 47 people who have been diagnosed with COVID-19. The state is reporting two new cases each in Benton and Deschutes Counties; and 1 new case in each of the following counties: Clackamas, Marion, Multnomah and Washington.
Oregon has only tested a few hundred people so far, largely due to a shortage of tests. The governor said Monday that private laboratories will soon be helping with testing capacity.
Medical experts at Monday's press conference said the lack of testing is a cause for concern.
"At present, we don't know who is carrying the COVID-19 virus and who is not," said Renee Edwards, with OHSU.
Oregon's first death from COVID-19 in Multnomah County came on Saturday. The person was a 70-year-old man who was being treated at the Portland Veterans' Affairs Medical Center.
President Trump told a group of governors Monday morning that they should not wait for the federal government to fill the growing demand for respirators needed to help people diagnosed with coronavirus.
The federal government is also now urging Americans to not gather in groups of more than 10 people, avoid social visits and delay travel.
Gov. Brown said she plans to call a special legislative session in the next couple of weeks to help soften the impact hitting workers in the state.
The partial shutdown of bars and restaurants will hit businesses that employ tens of thousands of Oregonians, many of them low wage workers.
Eating and drinking establishments provide roughly 160,000 jobs in the state, according to ballpark figures from the Oregon Office of Economic Analysis. Those businesses spent some $285 million in wages every month.
“These are relatively low wage jobs,” said the state economist Josh Lehner. “Which is one reason why we’re so concerned that who bears the brunt of these initial impacts of the COVID-19 are the low wage service workers.”
In Washington state, Inslee's restaurant and bar announcement ground the industry to a halt overnight.
Trap Door Brewing in Vancouver still plans to sell beers and food to-go.
But owner Bryan Shull said the closures nonetheless felt “like a sledgehammer I saw coming.”
“I was sitting in the bar with one of my staff yesterday afternoon. I said ‘If we’re open in 48 hours, I’d be very surprised,’” Shull said.
At Barlow’s Public House, also in Vancouver, the seven-month-old restaurant sat empty on Monday at Vancouver’s swank new waterfront. Leadership the night before told about 50 kitchen and waitstaff they would be without work at least the next two weeks.
Customers are already staying away, with few cars in the parking lot by Monday afternoon. The bar's deck overlooking the Columbia River sat empty under clear blue skies. General Manager Kyle Thompson called it “devastating.”
“I guarantee you we would have filled the deck,” he said. “Honestly, it could be 45 degrees and people would sit on that deck as long as it’s sunny.”
Brian Rummer, co-owner, said the southern-style gastropub now has to find a home for all of the food it bought in anticipation for a springtime rush. They won't staff up for takeout orders. They've mostly been a "destination restaurant," he said
“We’ve got a lot of food. What are we going to do with all that?” Rummer said. The two said they will box it up, give some of it to their furloughed staff and try to give the rest away to people in need.
In Central Oregon, Bend restaurateur Erica Reilly said she warned her 43 employees last week to expect significant losses in income, “although it's a little bit hard to wrap your head around how quickly things have evolved,” said Reilly, owner of the popular eatery Spork.
On Monday, Reilly was writing another email to the staff after Brown’s order to close dine-in service. She said she was wrestling with how to handle COVID-19 risk before that, and wishes the government would take more action on mandating best practices.
“I wonder what it would look like if all nonessential businesses closed, and if mortgages and rents and, and debt payments and if all of our financial liabilities were frozen for a month and we could claim insurance for loss of revenue... . I feel like at least as a business owner, I wouldn't have to be thinking every single minute of the day. What should I do?” Reilly said.
Brown said lawmakers are discussing what kind of package could help Oregon's small businesses and employees. There are talks of unemployment insurance and other types of public assistance.
The governor has already closed schools statewide, but only through March 31. Brown said she would have an updated announcement on schools soon, given that her current cancellation of gatherings of 25 or more extends beyond the end of March.
Some medical experts have projected that if the state doesn't drastically slow transmissions, more than 75,000 Oregonians could have the virus by May. There would likely be a shortage of hospital beds, ventilators and protective gear if that were to happen.
The governor said she is working with health care providers to restrict any elective procedures so both equipment and hospital beds can be preserved.
Kate Davidson, Emily Cureton and Troy Brynelson contributed to this report.