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Douglas County goes into extreme risk category Friday

Douglas County will move up to the “extreme risk” category of COVID-19 regulations Friday.

The county has been in the lower “high risk” category since Jan. 1, but with cases climbing, Gov. Kate Brown announced Tuesday that the county will move back into “extreme risk,” forcing some businesses to close or limit occupancy.

According to a data report from the state on weekly county metrics, Douglas County had 358 total cases, or 318.9 cases per 100,000 residents, between Feb. 7 and Feb. 20. It needed to remain at or below 200 per 100,000 cases over that period to remain in the high risk level.

While Douglas County’s risk level has increased, the governor noted many counties have improved. The county is just one of five counties that will be at the extreme risk level, down from 14 two weeks ago. Douglas will join Benton, Coos, Jefferson and Josephine Counties at the extreme risk level.

Eleven counties will be at high risk, 10 at moderate risk and 10 at lower risk.

“For the second time in a row, we are seeing great progress in stopping the spread of COVID-19 across Oregon and saving lives. Oregonians continue to step up and make smart choices,” the governor said.

The Douglas County Board of Commissioners said in a statement they are concerned about the recent surge in cases and dismayed to learn that case counts prompted the shift.

They said the change will be felt most by the county’s small local businesses like restaurants, bars and gyms, even though the most recent rash of cases have been reported at other places like long-term care facilities, churches and schools.

Over the last two weeks, they said, restaurants, bars and gyms accounted for less than 1% of cases here.

“The State’s new mandated program undeservedly punishes and brutally affects our local businesses ability to operate and stay financially stable during this pandemic,” the commissioners said.

They said they stand with local citizens and businesses.

“While Douglas County currently has no ability to shield or protect our businesses from state sanctions, penalties and fines, we are here to help in any way we can,” they said.

They encouraged local businesses to protect themselves and their customers by taking precautions to prevent the spread of the virus.

But they said the county will continue its policy of giving information rather than enforcing state mandated rules.

“We cannot in good conscience, condone citing or potentially arresting people for trying to make an honest living,” they said.

The risk level lasts for two weeks, after which the counties will be reassessed. This is the first time Douglas County has been in extreme risk since Jan. 1.

Here are the rules that will be in effect under the extreme risk level beginning Friday:

  • Bars and restaurants will no longer be able to offer indoor dining, but can offer outdoor dining and takeout. Outdoor dining capacity is reduced from 75 to 50.
  • The maximum number of people inside a church reduces from 150 to 100, and the maximum outdoors from 200 to 150. For small indoor spaces, the upper limit remains 25% occupancy.
  • Indoor gyms, pools, museums, theaters and fitness centers drop from 25% occupancy or a maximum 50 clients at a time to a maximum of six clients. Establishments smaller than 500 square feet can have no more than one client and one employee inside at a time.
  • Outdoor pools will drop from a maximum 75 people to 50.
  • Zoos drop from 75 to 50 maximum people.
  • Outdoor full contact sports will continue to be allowed, though the maximum will drop from 75 to 50.
  • Social and at-home gatherings outdoors drop from a maximum of eight people to a maximum of six. Indoors, the maximum six stays the same.
  • Offices will now be required to go to remote work if able and offices will be closed to the pubic.
  • Some things will remain the same. Grocery stores and pharmacies, for example, continue at a maximum of 50% capacity, with curbside pick-up encouraged.
  • Malls and retail stores continue at 50% occupancy.
  • Hair salons can continue to operate. Tattoos and piercing are still allowed.
  • Outdoor activities like hiking and camping also continue to be allowed.

The Douglas County COVID-19 Response Team reported 34 new cases Tuesday and no new deaths.

Nineteen county residents are currently hospitalized with COVID-19, 15 locally and four out of the area.

Statewide, the Oregon Health Authority reported 528 new cases and eight new deaths Tuesday.

Businesses brace for "extreme" COVID-19 risk in Douglas County

Gov. Kate Brown on Tuesday announced the newest risk ratings for counties throughout the state, and the updated list was not good news for businesses in Douglas County.

The county was moved from the rank of “high risk” to “extreme risk.” That means restaurants will go back to takeout only and most other businesses will operate under severe restrictions. For example, gyms can operate on a limited basis, with a maximum of six people working out at a time, and movie theaters also can only allow six people in an area.

The new regulations will go into effect Friday and last for at least two weeks. The News-Review spoke to area business owners about what this means for them and their businesses.

Misty Russell

Owner of Brix Grill in Roseburg

“We are frustrated. We are hopeful (Gov. Kate Brown) changes the scope of extreme to a more reasonable reflection of our very low state numbers and uses the information available that restaurant spread has not been the larger issue. We base this hope on the changes she has continued to make ... such as allowing indoor lottery during extreme. This shows she understands the state must meet financial obligations. A reasonable individual would realize the people of the state have those same obligations. We do not have lottery or a parking lot to allow us an indoor tent set up as outdoor dining. We cannot stay in business where we lose employees to closures continually as other industries are not mandated as harshly.”

Janelle “Nellie” Edelman

Owner of Nellie’s Deli & Tap House in Sutherlin

“So 2020 proved to be challenging and now 2021 is also proving that. As far as my business goes, I have a loyal and wonderful following of customers. They are the true heroes here. Even through closures, they return again and again. My challenge is keeping employees. Each time I close my dining room I am forced to lay them off. Some are eligible for unemployment, some are not and go find other jobs. This lay off I am going to try something different. I am going to apply for a second (Paycheck Protection Program) loan and keep all my employees on and see how that works. It is hard for all of us. I try to just roll with the punches. I do admit it is very frustrating and for my health, I try not to get too keyed up about it. ‘What’s gonna be is gonna be,’ is my philosophy and I have no desire or time to fight the government.”

Shelley Briggs Loosley

Chair of the board of directors for the YMCA of Douglas County

“Knowing we were going to be in the extreme category we got a jump on what can we do and how will we look. Matt Lund, our CEO, came up last Friday for an all-staff meeting (those that are left) and myself. We will be ready to fit within the guidelines of the extreme risk beginning Friday morning. We are communicating with our members so they are prepared. Everything we are set up to do fits within the extreme guidelines so we are compliant. One of our board members is Dr. Bob Dannenhoffer. I replaced him as board chair and we will be in compliance because we are the Y and we honor Dr. Bob’s position in this whole pandemic and he wants the best for us too. We are ready and wish we didn’t have to go into the extreme category, but hope the community will act responsibly and we can go back in two weeks. It’s a temporary two weeks. The outdoor area has remained open. We are hoping by getting information to our current members we will hold on to them for the next two weeks. Everything inside will be on a reservation system to control the number. Outside classes will remain the same, no changes, still outside.

Sam Gross

Owner of Loggers Tap House in Roseburg

“Going back to the extreme category is hard. We’ll go back to outside dining but even with that sales will drop significantly. We were lucky enough to get the second round of PPP. We’ll use those funds to keep most of our staff working. We’ll provide more training and work on other projects around the restaurant. This will mean that the drive-thru restaurants will continue to excel while the more traditional dine-in restaurants will suffer. Some businesses can’t do outdoor seating and it will be extra hard for them. There are also more recent startups that qualify for little or no PPP funds and those are the ones that are likely not to make it.”

Gross is also preparing to open a second Loggers in Winston.

“There is still a lot to do but everyone is working hard. We think we’ll be able to open around April 1. Hopefully, it will be for more than just takeout.”

Mariah Smith

Co-owner at TenDown Bowling & Entertainment in Roseburg

“Yes, Douglas County went over its case count limit to remain in the ‘high risk’ category last Tuesday. We’ve spent a lot of time studying the ‘extreme risk’ guidelines for businesses like ours to operate, and have decided to close during this upcoming two-week period. Hopefully, our county case numbers will slow so we can move back to a phase that will allow us to welcome customers back inside the building.”

Schools remain open as county moves into extreme risk

Douglas County schools will remain open even though several local businesses will be forced to close or limit interactions with customers due to rising COVID-19 cases in the area.

Gov. Kate Brown announced Tuesday that Douglas County will be moving into the extreme risk category, starting Friday. In the two-week period ending Feb. 20, there were 358 coronavirus cases in the county, which equals 318.9 cases per 100,000 people.

All schools in Douglas County are currently open to at least partial in-person learning.

The Oregon Department of Education advises schools to pause the expansion of in-person learning, but does not recommend going back to Comprehensive Distance Learning. The only reason to return to distance learning would be if there’s transmission in the schools.

Local officials have repeatedly said there has been no evidence of spread of COVID-19 within the schools.

There have been more than 70 reported COVID-19 cases since the start of the school year, and at least one case at each public school district in the county.