Days after saying she wouldn’t order Oregonians largely to remain at home to slow the spread of the coronavirus, Gov. Kate Brown did just that Monday.
Bowing to increasing pressure from health care workers and public officials, the governor issued an executive order directing Oregonians to stay home "to the maximum extent possible," except for when carrying out essential tasks like getting groceries, refueling their vehicles, or obtaining health care.
"I asked and urged Oregonians to stay home," Brown said in a conference call with reporters, following a weekend where Oregonians mobbed the coast and other areas. "On Friday night, I frankly directed them to stay home. And now I am ordering them to stay home."
Recreational activity like jogging or hiking is permitted under the order, so long as people can keep 6 feet away from others. Social gatherings of any size are prohibited, though there’s a notable exception if a 6-foot buffer is maintained.
Brown also has expanded the list of businesses forced to shutter as Oregon tries to contain a COVID-19 outbreak that threatens to overwhelm the hospital system in coming weeks. Those are businesses “for which close personal contact is difficult or impossible to avoid,” according to the order, including bowling alleys, gyms, gift shops, malls, spas, senior centers and theaters, among others. The Oregon Health Authority is able to expand those closures, if necessary.
Restaurants and bars, which were largely closed by an earlier order from Brown, are still allowed to sell take-out orders. Businesses allowed to remain open must designate an employee to create and enforce social distancing policies.
For businesses that remain open, the governor has directed staff be allowed to work from home when possible, and that safe social distancing provisions be maintained for those employees who must be on site. Executive branch government buildings will close, as will campgrounds, playgrounds, basketball courts, skate parks and other facilities.
Child care facilities are limited to a maximum of 10 children per room, who must be the same “stable” group of kids each day.
Violations of the order can be treated as a class C misdemeanor, punishable by up to 30 days in jail and a $1,250 fine. Officials suggested Monday that initial violations would be treated leniently when possible.
The Portland Police Bureau, for instance, said it would first try to educate people and businesses who aren't abiding the new rules, but would enforce penalties if the activity persists. The bureau called criminal citation a "last resort."
"If businesses do not comply, they will be shut down," Brown said. "And if Oregonians don’t comply, we’ll have to take the next step, but I don’t want to do that."
Law enforcement officers have already had to close down one Pendleton bar that opened on St. Patrick's Day in violation of an earlier executive order, and have broken up party-goers on the beach, Brown said.
The order takes effect immediately, though impacted businesses do not need to close until 12:01 a.m. Tuesday, and other changes take effect Wednesday. The order does not have a predetermined end date.
With the order, Oregon joins a growing list of states that have implemented so-called "shelter in place" orders. Brown is officially calling it a "stay home, save lives" order, and said Monday she had benefited from watching other states try to enact similar policies.
"Governors all over the nation are wrestling with how to do this," she said. "We were able to learn from other states and watch the confusion that happened there."
In the last week, the governor had repeatedly declined to make an order of this scope, reasoning the coronavirus could be slowed if Oregonians would voluntarily observe social distancing practices. Brown was hesitant to further hurt the state’s economy by forcing more businesses to close, her office said.
That changed over the sunny spring weekend, when Oregonians flocked in large numbers to the coast, Columbia River Gorge and other outdoor hot spots.
“Some Oregonians are not adhering to social distancing guidance provided by the Oregon Health Authority, as represented by crowds this last weekend at the Oregon Coast, Smith Rock State Park, the Columbia River Gorge and other places around the state,” Brown’s order says. “To slow the spread of COVID-19 in Oregon, to protect the health and lives of Oregonians, particularly those at highest risk, and to help avoid overwhelming local and regional healthcare capacity, I find that immediate implementation of additional measures is necessary.”
Brown had also faced an increasing pressure campaign from health care and local elected officials, who over the weekend subjected the governor to mounting calls to act. By Sunday, that group included 25 Portland-area mayors, the council of regional government Metro, the chairs of the state's three most-populous counties, a wide array of health care industry groups and hundreds of physicians.
Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler had also threatened to act unilaterally on an order if Brown did not. That threat appeared to have had little impact Friday night, when Brown, Wheeler and Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury held a muddled press conference. Brown told reporters at the time she was not contemplating a statewide order restricting citizens movements, but would instead close a slate of additional businesses.
By Sunday afternoon, the governor had changed her mind. Brown told elected officials in a 4 p.m. conference call that she had decided to issue a stronger order after all. Willamette Week first published details of the forthcoming order.
As of Monday morning, the state had reported more than 190 cases of COVID-19 in Oregon, and five deaths due to the disease. Because Oregon has struggled to ramp up testing, public health officials warn that the virus is likely far more widespread than the numbers suggest. The state’s hospitals are preparing to be overrun with serious cases of the disease in coming weeks.
Brown has previously issued a raft of executive orders in a bid to stem the tide, including orders closing schools, shuttering many bars and restaurants, prohibiting gatherings of 25 or more people, and directing colleges and universities to conduct learning online.
On Sunday, Brown also prohibited law enforcement officers from enforcing residential evictions based on nonpayment of rent related to the pandemic. That order lasts for 90 days, but has drawn criticism from tenant advocates, who note it doesn't stop landlords from initiating eviction proceedings.