Oregon Gov. Kate Brown announced Monday she is closing the state’s bars and restaurants and banning 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.

She also urged Oregonians to avoid gatherings of more than 10 people. 

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.

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.”

The governor had initially hesitated to close bars and restaurants. Brown said her initial reluctance was partly informed by a conference call she held with hundreds of elected officials on Sunday.

“Particularly in our rural communities, restaurants are a key provider of meals to a lot of the elderly and vulnerable folks,” Brown said. “We are taking these concerns seriously as we develop policy.”

Number Of Cases Grows

Oregon Health Authority officials reported four more cases of coronavirus Monday evening at the Oregon Veteran’s Home in Lebanon, Oregon. That brings the total number of cases at the center to 13, including 12 residents and one employee. 

Meanwhile, Clark County officials announced a fourth new case of coronavirus Monday morning. A Lewis County resident was also diagnosed with the virus, public health officials said, bringing the total in Washington state to more than 770. 

As of Monday night, Oregon had a total of 51 reported cases of the novel coronavirus.

The Oregon Department of Veterans’ Affairs and the OHA are prioritizing testing for residents and staff at the Veterans’ Home.

At least 80 people have died of the virus in the United States, including one in Oregon. Most of those deaths have been in the Seattle area.

Oregon’s first death from COVID-19 in Multnomah County Saturday – the person was a 70-year-old man who was being treated at the Portland Veterans’ Affairs Medical center.

The novel coronavirus, a relative of other viruses like SARS, was first identified in Wuhan, China, late last year.

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown announced late Thursday that all K-12 public schools in the state of Oregon will be closed through the end of March. That ban could extend longer following restrictions she announced Monday on gatherings of 25 people or more. 

“I want to be very clear: sending Oregon children home will not stop the spread of the coronavirus,” Brown said in a statement. “While children are home, when at all possible, they should not be in the care of older adults or those with underlying health issues that are most at risk from COVID-19.”

Price Gouging 

Brown also granted a request from Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum to immediately declare an “abnormal disruption of the market” in the state. The declaration allows Rosenblum to take legal action against any business or online vendor that resells essential goods with a price hike higher than 15 %. 

In a letter to the governor, Rosenblum said her office has been hearing from consumers about overpriced items, like toilet paper and hand sanitizer. 

“During this COVID-19 public health emergency, I want Oregonians to know that my office is open for business, and we want to hear from Oregonians as to what is going on in the marketplace,” Rosenblum wrote. 

Other law enforcement agencies had even stronger words for price gougers during the crisis. Deschutes County District Attorney John Hummel urged Oregonians to contact the state Department of Justice consumer protection phone line if they saw overpriced goods. 

“I will have a zero tolerance policy toward offenders. If you’re putting our community at risk to make a buck during a time of crisis, in addition to rotting in hell, you’ll face the full weight of the legal power granted to me by the people of Oregon,” Hummel said in a statement. 

Portland’s alternative weekly newspapers take a hit

Willamette Week reports that its print circulation has been slashed in half from 50,000 to 25,000 newspapers, citing that readers are less likely to pick up the paper in bars or venues amid the coronavirus outbreak.

“We will ramp back up when it makes sense, and when people are attending the places we distribute,” said editor and publisher Mark Zusman.

According to Willamette Week, many reporters continue to work from home.

For the Portland Mercury, some reporters were temporarily laid off Saturday with the publication switching to an online-only format. 

“We’ve temporarily laid off 10 members of our beloved staff,” Steven Humphrey, the editor-in-chief of the newspaper, wrote in a blog post

The staff layoffs span editorial, calendar, sales and circulation, Humphrey wrote. Managers also had salary cuts, he said. 

Humphrey said the paper has the intention of “eventually bringing everyone back.”

“Will the Mercury be back in full force after all this has returned to normal? I think so. I hope so,” Humphrey wrote.

School districts preparing food for children during closures

All schools statewide closed Monday, leaving many students who usually receive meals in school needing food aid. 

School districts are offering “grab-and-go” meals at no cost for children 18 and under. Meals will be provided Monday through Friday, depending on location, and on March 30th and 31.

Some school districts are also offering meals through the regularly scheduled spring break. Schools districts will offer meals at varied times and locations:

Beaverton School District

Bend-LaPine Schools

Corvallis School District

David-Douglas School District

Eugene School District

Greater Albany Public Schools

Gresham-Barlow School District

Hillsboro School District

Medford School District

North Clackamas School District

Portland Public Schools 

Reynolds School District

Salem-Keizer School District

Tigard-Tualatin School District

Lawsuit to release ICE detainees

The ACLU of Washington and the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project filed a lawsuit Monday, seeking the release of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement immigration detainees at high risk for contracting the COVID-19 disease.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of detainees at Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma, Washington.

People in custody are at heightened risk for contracting illnesses because they’re in a confined place and efforts like social distancing are not possible, or far more challenging.

The groups called on ICE to release people who are most vulnerable, including those with underlying health conditions.

“Immigrant detention centers are institutions that uniquely heighten the danger of disease transmission,” said Eunice Cho, senior staff attorney at the ACLU’s National Prison Project. “In normal circumstances, ICE has proven time and again that it is unable to protect the health and safety of detained people. These are not normal circumstances, and the heightened risk of serious harm to people in detention from COVID-19 is clear.”

Last week, ICE suspended all social visit at its detention facilities, nationwide. On Friday, the agency said there were no detainees in ICE custody with confirmed cases of COVID-19. The agency declined to say how many detainees received tests.

Gun sales surge in Oregon

Since fears of the Coronavirus have set in, Oregonians have been stocking up on soap, nonperishable food and a lot of toilet paper. But at the Gun Room in Southeast Portland, owner Shaun Lacasse said they’re also buying so many guns the Oregon State Police background check system can’t keep up.  

Normally a background check to buy a firearm takes about 10 minutes. Oregon State Police said they don’t have updated numbers for how many background checks they’ve run this past week. But according to multiple gun stores, the wait time for a background check was up to two hours. Other times, the computer system simply didn’t work. 

“I’ve been here my whole life doing this,” said Lacasse, whose father opened the store in 1965. “I’m 52 years old, I grew up behind this counter. I’ve never seen anything like yesterday.”

Most of the crowd, he said, were first time buyers. And more than a few were nurses and doctors.

Asked what he thought people were scared of, Lacasse answered half joking, “Everything. They’re buying guns and ammunition so they can go home and sit on their couch and defend their stash of toilet paper from the pending apocalypse.

“And most of them are saying they’re gonna go hit the liquor store when they’re done getting their guns,” he added.

Ultimately, he said, most of the people are buying a weapon to feel better in uncertain times.