science environment

Q&A: What To Expect As Oregon Starts To Reopen

By Courtney Sherwood (OPB)
May 15, 2020 4 p.m.

UPDATE (May 16, 11:11 a.m. PT) — Most Oregon counties can start to ease COVID-19 restrictions Friday – but even as some communities prepare to reopen, it's not quite a return to "business as usual." Gov. Kate Brown has outlined a multi-stage approach for reopening the state. Here's what you need to know.

Which counties are allowed to reopen?


The majority of Oregon’s population still lives under a “Stay Home, Stay Safe” order. But residents of 31 mostly rural counties will see restrictions begin to ease on Friday.

Those counties that will begin the first stage of reopening are: Baker, Benton, Clatsop, Columbia, Coos, Crook, Curry, Deschutes, Douglas, Gilliam, Grant, Harney, Hood River, Jackson, Jefferson, Josephine, Klamath, Lake, Lane, Lincoln, Linn, Malheur, Morrow, Sherman, Tillamook, Umatilla, Union, Wallowa, Wasco, Wheeler, Yamhill.

How were they chosen?

The state has prerequisites counties have to meet before they can reopen.

They must be able to show that COVID-19 infections are not climbing, that they can test people for infections, trace the contacts of people who test positive, and that there are enough hospital beds if the coronavirus begins to spread more rapidly.

Of Oregon’s 36 counties, 33 applied to start Phase 1 of reopening based on those criteria. Nearly all of them received approval to begin reopening, though a handful had to provide additional information to the state Thursday.

Marion and Polk counties applied to start reopening, but they were rejected. Both are in the greater Salem area, where COVID-19 infections have been detected at a much higher level than in most of Oregon.

In both counties, hospitalizations have increased and state health officials have not been able to pinpoint specific sources of local outbreaks

Clackamas, Multnomah and Washington counties did not ask to be allowed to reopen yet.

If I don’t live in one of the counties that were approved for Phase 1 reopening, does anything change for me? 

Yes and no. The governor’s stay-at-home order is still in effect, but Brown has announced several exceptions since she initially implemented restrictions on March 23.

Last week, the state began to gradually reopen state parks, for example. And daycare centers are allowed to open statewide, regardless of county, as long as they follow certain rules.

Non-emergency medical care, as well as dental and non-essential veterinary visits, were allowed to resume statewide earlier this month.

Many retailers closed after the stay-home order was issued in March, but on Thursday Brown said they aren’t all required to do so. While indoor malls were ordered to close, stand-alone retailers are allowed to stay open if they can meet safety and physical distancing guidelines, according to the state’s coronavirus guidelines.

However, the biggest changes to daily life are coming in the 31 counties now entering Phase 1 of reopening —where restrictions on restaurants, gyms, social gatherings and other elements of daily living will slowly begin to lift.

Can I hold parties now? Are any gatherings of any size allowed, indoors or outdoors, for performing arts?

In theory, residents of the counties approved for Phase 1 of reopening can have parties or other gatherings, but there are still strict limits. No more than 25 people can get together for any event, they have to stay at least 6 feet apart, and they all must be local to the area. Travel to gatherings is still not allowed.

Clackamas, Marion, Multnomah, Polk and Washington counties remain under the stay-home order, which means social gatherings with people from multiple households are still banned in those places.

Can sporting events, like impromptu soccer matches or scheduled team practices, resume? 

The governor’s guidelines prohibit organized contact sports that involve participants coming within 6 feet of each other — everything from basketball and football to taekwondo and karate. Organized sports where people use shared equipment — like baseballs or bats — are also banned.

The rules don’t specifically prohibit pick-up games, but people are still required to stay 6 feet apart and limit gatherings to no more than 25 people in Phase 1 counties, and no group gatherings are allowed in areas that have not yet begun to reopen.

When can I send my kid back to daycare?

As soon as Friday, if you can find a child care provider that is ready to meet the state's new rules. These rules, which apply statewide to all counties, were released this week.

Child care centers have to limit how many children come into contact with other youth and how many adults associate with each cohort of kids. They'll also have to keep careful logs of when children and adults come and go so that health officials can trace who has been exposed if anybody gets sick.

Will summer camps for kids be allowed? 

Yes, if you can find one that's able to adapt to new guidelines issued Friday. Summer camps and summer schools are allowed statewide starting in June — not just in areas approved for Phase 1 reopening. Overnight summer camps are not allowed.

Among the new rules:

  • Programs must be limited to stable groups of 10 or fewer summer campers or students.
  • Classrooms need to keep desks at least six feet apart, and camps have to ensure each child has 35 square feet of space indoors, and 75 feet outdoors.
  • Staff must collect information on youth in attendance and the adults dropping them off or picking them up, in case contact tracing becomes necessary.

Just because summer programs are allowed, that doesn’t mean they’ll be easy to find in every community. Portland Parks and Recreation has canceled its summer camps, for example.

Am I required to wear a mask when I go shopping or when I go out in public?

State health officials strongly urge the use of masks for people who go out in public, but in most cases it’s not required under state law or the governor’s order. All passengers are required to wear face coverings on buses and other forms of public transit, except for children younger than 2.

“Each day, more and more Oregonians are making face coverings or getting one from a neighbor, whether it's a bandanna or repurposed quilters fabric or a dust mask found in the garage,” Brown said. “We wear these face coverings because we are on the lookout for ourselves, our family and our neighbors.”

Under guidelines issued Friday, workers or volunteers who regularly interact with the public or with other clients are now required to wear face coverings on the job, and their employers are required to provide those coverings.

Stores are allowed to require that their customers wear masks, and business owners may choose to deny entry to people who do not cover their faces. They’re required to post a clear sign about their mask rules.


People whose disability affects their ability to wear a mask are exempt — they don’t have to cover their faces at work, when volunteering or when visiting stores that otherwise mandate masks.

Can I eat a meal in a restaurant again?

In counties approved for Phase 1 reopening, restaurants and bars are allowed to start serving seated meals as soon as Friday — but don't expect to sidle up to a crowded bar for a long, late night with pals.

To reopen, restaurants must ensure that all tables are spaced at least 6 feet apart. No more than 10 people in the same group can sit together to eat. Customers won’t be able to fill their plates at buffets or salad bars or to refill their drinks. Bar and restaurant staff need to wear face coverings. And these businesses must close by 10 p.m.

Video poker machines will be allowed, as long as they’re set up with 6 feet between any operating games, but pool tables are off-limits.

Restaurants have been told they should encourage customers to call ahead or make a reservation. If there’s a long wait to be seated, customers may be asked to wait outside or in their cars.

Can I get a hair cut? 

Yes, barbershops and salons can reopen in Oregon’s Phase 1 counties. Hair cuts must be by appointment only — no walk-ins allowed. Stylists and barbers will be required to track their customers’ names and contact information, to wear protective gear, and to keep customers 6 feet apart from one another.

Related: Ousted Scientist Says His Pandemic Warnings Were Dismissed As 'Commotion'

They’re also required to screen patrons.

“We ask that the person that you’re going to see ask you some questions about how you’re feeling, make sure that you’re not sick, and if you are showing any symptoms ask that you reschedule,” said state epidemiologist Dr. Dean Sidelinger. “Some businesses may opt to take your temperature when you go in, … but that’s not something that we require.”

These businesses are not required to open, even in areas where it's allowed. Some stylists have said they plan to stay closed because of concern for their health and safety, or because their businesses are not large enough to meet physical distancing requirements.

Can I go to the gym?

Gyms are allowed to reopen in Phase 1 counties — but they have to keep pools and showers closed, and to guarantee that patrons stay 6 feet apart.  Contact sports are off-limits, and gyms are encouraged to ask their patrons to wear masks or other face coverings.

Gyms are also required to track each person who works out and to keep those records for at least 60 days, and to implement rigid sanitation protocols, under guidelines the state released Thursday.

If I live in a county that’s still restricted, can I travel to areas where restrictions have been relaxed?

No. When the governor announced that state parks would gradually start to reopen, she noted that nobody should travel more than 50 miles for outdoor recreation.

On Thursday, she re-emphasized the importance of staying close to home, especially for people in Clackamas, Washington and Multnomah counties.

“I know this is really hard. I know many of us are really wanting to get our hair done,” Brown said. “We are asking folks in the metro area to be thoughtful of their fellow Oregonians and to stay home and limit their travel.”

I’ve been telecommuting to work. Can I return to my office now?


“People who usually work in an office and have been working from home during the pandemic must continue to work from home. This is incredibly important to limit the spread of the disease,” Brown said Thursday. “Thank you to our business owners and our employees for following these very important rules.”

Can I go camping now? Are the rules different at developed campgrounds vs. dispersed camping?

Camping is still banned in state parks, and dispersed camping was recently prohibited in state forestlands for reasons unrelated to the coronavirus — because of a growing problem with human waste and litter.

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management has also closed its developed campsites in Oregon, although dispersed camping may be allowed on some BLM land. The agency requests that people call and ask local field offices before heading out.

Can I visit my loved one in a nursing home? 

Not yet. Counties need to demonstrate at least three weeks of low COVID-19 transmission rates at Phase I of reopening before they can apply to enter Phase II. At that point, limited visits to nursing homes and other so-called congregate-care facilities will be allowed.

Does the state have advice on how best to protect against transmission in the newly reopened counties? How do we prevent a resurgence?

“Our personal actions each day will either slow the virus or spread it,” said Patrick Allen, director of the Oregon Health Authority.

“Practice physical distancing, stay 6 feet apart, don't gather in large groups. Remember some of the advice from the very beginning of the pandemic: Cover your cough or sneeze into your arm. Stay home from work — stay home, generally — if you're sick,” he said. “Wear cloth face coverings when you're out in public and can't physically distance.”

What happens if there's a resurgence due to the restrictions being lifted too early?

“As we begin reopening, we’re going to see more cases across the state,” Brown said.

Public health officials expect this and will take a case-by-case approach to future outbreaks, Sidelinger, the state epidemiologist, said. If an outbreak is centered at a nursing home or workplace, for example, they will focus on containing the spread of the virus.

But if there’s broader community spread of COVID-19 that can’t be easily traced and contained, restrictions could be put back in place until the spread is under control.

“This is like walking out onto thin ice,” Brown said. “We have to make sure the ice is solid. If it is, we can move forward. If it’s not, we have to move back.”

What comes next? 

Public health officials will be carefully monitoring COVID-19 statistics in the 31 Oregon counties entering Phase 1 of reopening. If infection rates stay low and those counties meet other metrics set forth by the state, they can apply to move on to the next stage of reopening, which could start as early as June 5.

In Phase 2, people who have been telecommuting will be allowed to return to their offices to work, and limited visits to nursing homes will be allowed. Larger in-person gatherings will also be allowed.

The final stage of reopening — Phase 3 — is off-limits until October at the soonest, according to state officials. That’s when concerts, conventions, live-audience sports and other gatherings deemed high-risk can resume.