The Columbia County Board of Commissioners is asking Governor Kate Brown to reconsider her latest county risk classifications to slow the surge of COVID-19 cases.
On Friday, April 30, Columbia County and 14 other counties will be classified as Extreme High Risk counties under the Oregon pandemic health and safety classifications. That means tighter public and business health and safety restrictions.
"The virus continues to take a grave toll on our local economies with restaurants representing one of the key cornerstones fueling connectivity, hope, and mental health for our residents." the county commissioners write in a letter to Brown. "These are the places we break bread, share inspiration, and encourage one another and the COVID crisis has stripped us of these life essentials."
The commissioners have joined 79 other Oregon county commissioners and the Oregon hospitality industry in expressing their concerns in the letter, sent to Brown April 27. The letter states the environment in each county throughout Oregon is uniquely its own. And the experts of these regions live and breathe their successes and failures. The job of a Governor in a crisis like this is an unenviable one, the letter reads.
"We fully accept and understand the importance of hospital capacity including an assessment of available personnel in order to adequately meet the demands of any health emergency." the letter states. "We have reached the point where the vast majority of Oregon’s population most prone to serious illness has been successfully protected from the virus. And we must all admit a documented case today does not carry with it the same weight as a documented case in the Fall when so many of our fellow Oregonians lacked access to vaccine."
"The variants are indeed troublesome, the letter states, "and we share your concern for their spread. But shutting down our restaurants and further depriving Oregonians of their right to make calculated community engagement risks when the virus continues to spread elsewhere will not result in success."
The commission letter said that the time has come to allow Columbia County's communities the opportunity to move forward while embracing continued health and safety precautions.
"Our people understand the risks associated with COVID and our businesses have proven their ability to adhere to the highest expectations in safety, sanitation, and air quality,' the commissioners said. "It is no coincidence Oregon has not seen one instance of a super spreader event tied to our hospitality industry. "
The county board is asking the governor for her support in putting all effort and momentum into vaccinations.
"We have the safety guidelines and expectations clearly outlined for all industry sectors and have reached a point where those safety measures, alongside our work to achieve vaccination goals, can carry us through the other side of this pandemic without breaking our statewide hospital capacity," the commissioners stated. "You must know restrictions on specific types of businesses compared to others within our local communities is creating rifts and dividing people rather than bringing Oregonians together."
The county commissioners said the governor can flip the script by removing state mandated business restrictions on communities while empowering the county health departments to uphold high expectations for ongoing health and safety measures as recommended by the Centers for Disease and Control (CDC).
"We have reached our turning point and we thank you in advance of your consideration." the county commissioners stated.
The letter is signed by Columbia County Commissioners and several other county commissions in Oregon as part of the Association of Oregon Counties.