Gov. Kate Brown on Tuesday released the nitty gritty details behind the state’s new restrictions to curb COVID-19\u2032s rapid spread in Oregon, making clear that enforcement against social gatherings will be less strict than violations by businesses.
Brown’s executive order came four days after she first announced the statewide restrictions and the day before they go into effect, marking the most sweeping limitations enacted since her initial stay-home order in March.
Brown’s 10-page executive order described the rationale for shutting down in-person dining both indoors and outdoors, capping capacity at grocery stores and in retail shops, and closing some businesses like gyms and museums altogether. The restrictions have infuriated some, including Senate Republicans, who claim they are an overreach.
The state is now averaging 952 coronavirus cases a day and the number of hospitalized Oregonians with COVID-19 has reached a record high.
The governor’s staff and state law enforcement officials made clear Tuesday they are not looking to aggressively crack down on Oregonians who do not strictly adhere to new limits on social gatherings. Brown’s rules call for no more than six people to gather from no more than two households.
“I expect local law enforcement to continue to use an education first approach,” Brown said in a statement, “but Oregonians need to understand that these rules are enforceable under law.”
Minutes after Brown’s statement, officials with the Oregon Sheriff’s Association, Oregon Association of Chiefs of Police and Oregon State Police released their own. They implored Oregonians to comply with the executive order, noting that misdemeanor charges would be “a last resort” and officers would seek to educate first.
Oregon law enforcement “recognizes that we cannot arrest or enforce our way out of the pandemic,” the agencies wrote. “We can however work together in following these restrictions to make our communities a safer and healthy place.”
Brown’s executive order provided a bit more detail on some of the businesses affected. Wineries will join bars as being prohibited from having indoor or outdoor tastings or meals, and restaurants won’t be allowed to offer either indoor or outdoor dining. Groups serving food to or working with people experiencing homelessness won’t be affected by the closures but must still follow existing state health guidelines.
Funeral services are allowed, through capped at 25 people indoors or 50 people outdoors. “No food or drink may be served for on-site consumption,” the order states, “unless integral to a religious service.” That same caveat is listed for other religious gatherings.
Businesses are encouraged to allow employees to work remotely although that does not apply to state legislative and judicial branches, or federal, local or tribal governments. Many, if not most, non-essential public sector employees have been working remotely for months already despite the existing exemption.
During her news conference last week, Brown said she had no choice but to step up enforcement on social gatherings, which health officials say are a leading cause of coronavirus spread. Brown said she’d spoken with the Oregon State Police superintendent to urge coordination with local law enforcement.
A spokesman for Brown on Tuesday called those statements “a punctuation mark to hold people accountable in making smart choices that can save another’s life,” while at the same time outlining the circumstances for when enforcement could occur.
“The Oregon State Police will be working with local law enforcement to enforce the governor’s orders, in the same way local law enforcement officers respond to noise complaints for loud parties, for example, and issue citations,” Charles Boyle wrote in a statement.
Brown’s order lays out that those who “knowingly” violate the order would face a Class C misdemeanor charge, which carries the potential for a $1,250 fine, jail time or both.
But Boyle said a prosecutor could also reduce any criminal citation to a non-criminal violation with a lower fine. The Oregon Health Authority, meanwhile, could pursue civil penalties which carry a maximum fine of $500 a day for prolonged violations.
Law enforcement agencies said they face “many challenges” right now, including having more calls for service than they have “available resources” to provide, so they asked concerned citizens to report COVID-related violations to different agencies altogether.
The law enforcement groups urged people who witness restaurants or bars violating the order to report those issues to the Oregon Liquor Control Commission or the Oregon Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
Issues with a business or workplace should also go to Oregon OSHA, they wrote.
Republicans in the Oregon State Senate blasted Brown for the “hypocritical” actions. “The people who are most likely to suffer from COVID-19, the elderly, have been ignored during the political pandemic,” they wrote, “while all other citizens have been forced to endure months of government overreach and watch their normal lives disappear.”
The restrictions, part of Brown’s so-called “freeze,” will remain in effect through at least Dec. 2, according to her order. Brown has said Multnomah County and other hard-hit areas may be under those restrictions for “at least” four weeks.
“We need all Oregonians to use common sense, make smart choices, and take seriously their individual responsibilities during a public health emergency,” Brown said.
— Andrew Theen
(c)2020 The Oregonian (Portland, Ore.)
Visit The Oregonian (Portland, Ore.) at www.oregonian.com
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
This content is published through a licensing agreement with Acquire Media using its NewsEdge technology.