Baker County’s respite from Oregon’s most extreme COVID-19 restrictions will last just two weeks.
The county, which moved from the extreme-risk category to the high-risk on Jan. 1, will return to the extreme designation on Friday, Jan. 15, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown announced on Tuesday, Jan. 12.
Baker County Commissioner Mark Bennett said Tuesday he was disappointed.
“I thought I could lobby our way out of extreme,” said Bennett, who has served as the county’s incident commander during the pandemic. “We’re not happy. It’s not what we wanted.”
Restaurant owner Tyler Brown shares Bennett’s dismay.
Brown owns Barley Brown’s Brew Pub and Tap House, and his family also owns Sumpter Junction restaurant, all in Baker City.
Sumpter Junction has been closed since March because the layout of its booths makes it unfeasible to operate even with limited indoor dining.
But Brown said his pub has been open for indoor dining — albeit with a limit of 50 people, including staff and customers — since Baker County dropped to the high-risk category.
Business was brisk last weekend, and Brown said he had nine to 10 employees working.
With the county returning to the extreme-risk category, and restaurants limited to takeout, Brown said he’ll need just three or four workers.
“It’s incredibly frustrating,” Brown said of the biweekly shifts from limited indoor dining to takeout. “We are not in control of our future.”
As a county with a population between 15,000 and 30,000 (Baker County has about 16,800 residents), Baker is in the extreme-risk category if it exceeds either of two measurements:
• a test positivity rate of 10% or higher during a two-week measuring period
• 60 or more new cases over the two-week measuring period
The county’s risk level, for Jan. 15-28, is based on COVID-19 figures from Dec. 27 through Jan. 9.
Baker County Commissioner Mark Bennett said on Tuesday afternoon, Jan. 12, that state officials pegged the county’s total of new cases during the period at 64, while the county had a tally of 62.
Either figure exceeds the threshold of 59 new cases.
The county’s test positivity rate of 12% also put the county in the extreme category.
Bennett said he told state officials that the Baker County Health Department’s case investigations and contact tracing have not shown that restaurants and bars are a significant source, if at all, of infections. But so far state officials have not agreed to allow county officials to set restriction levels based on local conditions.
The difference in restrictions between the high- and extreme-risk levels applies largely to restaurants, bars, fitness centers and gyms, theaters and museums.
Restaurants and bars
• Extreme risk: Indoor dining prohibited; outdoor dining allowed with a maximum of 50 people, six people, from no more than two households, per table. Required closure at 11 p.m.
• High risk: Indoor dining allowed, with a limit of 25% of capacity or 50 people, including customers and staff, whichever is fewer.
Indoor fitness centers, theaters and museums
• Extreme risk: Prohibited
• High risk: Maximum of 25% of capacity or 50 total people, whichever is fewer
Long-term care facilities
• Extreme risk: Outside visits only
• High risk: Visits allowed, including indoors