UPDATE (12:55 p.m. PT) — Oregon is on the verge of its next major step toward reopening the state’s businesses and institutions, as coronavirus case numbers, hospitalizations and deaths are flattening out. State officials say the first 31 Oregon counties to move into Phase 1 are eligible for the next milestone — Phase 2 — as soon as Friday.
Phase 2 is a significant and likely long-lasting step, since Gov. Kate Brown’s reopening framework describes the third and final phase as “not possible until a reliable treatment or prevention is available.” Such medical advances may be years away.
“Phase 2 is where we want to hang out as a state — the North Star is trying to open the economy enough and be in a functional space and allow schools to open in the fall … and those are big challenges,” Gina Zejdlik, the governor’s deputy chief of staff, said.
State epidemiologist Dr. Dean Sidelinger described a slate of benchmarks Tuesday that counties are expected to reach in order to further relax restrictions imposed in March. The first requirement is time — counties can’t apply for Phase 2 until they’ve been in Phase 1 for at least 14 days. State officials said that by late Tuesday, at least 26 counties had officially requested moving to Phase 2, with another seven considered eligible to do so.
Health officials plan to spend Wednesday analyzing county-level metrics to see if they’ve sufficiently contained the virus, if they’ve been testing and tracking cases and have maintained health resources in case of an uptick. For instance, Sidelinger said the state wants to see that county case numbers over the last seven days are not above where they were over the previous seven.
Under forthcoming Phase 2 guidelines, gatherings of up to 50 people may take place indoors, up from 25 people in Phase 1; and outdoor gatherings are allowed with up to 100 people. Restaurants and bars will be able to extend their curfews from 10 p.m. to midnight.
For larger venues like movie theaters and churches, spaces may be able to expand their occupancy to 250 people depending on their size.
Employees may begin a limited return to indoor workspaces, but work from home is still strongly recommended.
Youth sports will have guidance regarding equipment sharing, and low-contact sports like tennis or pickleball may return to play. Indoor activities such as bowling, pool and arcades will receive specific guidance.
Once approved for Phase 2, Sidelinger said that counties wouldn’t move back to Phase 1. If a significant uptick in cases were to occur, the Oregon Health Authority would ensure efficient contact tracing is in place and infected individuals remain quarantined at home.
“We wouldn’t consider pausing or moving folks back, and that’s why we want to look at the indicators, have that conversation with the counties to see what’s behind those numbers … and see if additional resources are needed,” Sidelinger said.
As counties prepare to move forward to Phase 2, Oregon’s most populous counties are still behind — Clackamas and Washington counties must operate under Phase 1 for at least 21 days. Multnomah County has yet to apply for Phase 1 but is expected to do that Friday, June 5, with the expectation of entering Phase 1, on June 12.
While the county-level, phased reopening will mean that different parts of Oregon will have significantly different rules when it comes to how restaurants operate and whether theaters can open, for instance, there are some rules that are common statewide — such as regulations for retail shops. The governor’s office is planning a new set of statewide guidance allowing zoos, gardens and museums to reopen on a limited basis. Officials are also planning to allow collegiate athletes to prepare for a return to competition, beginning with training.