Gov. Kate Brown on Friday announced a 2-week statewide “freeze” starting Nov. 18 that is designed to curb the surge in COVID-19 cases.
During the freeze, restaurants will be limited to takeout and grocery stores are restricted to 75% of their customer capacity.
The governor announced the statewide restrictions two days after a 2-week “pause” started in nine of Oregon’s 36 counties, including Baker.
The pause was much less restrictive. Restaurants, for instance, are limited now to a capacity of 50 people, including customers and staff.
But starting on Nov. 18 restaurants can offer takeout meals only.
Jamie Kassien, co-owner of D & J Taco Shop in Baker City, said Friday afternoon that he’s frightened about how the restrictions will affect not only his business, but also many of his friends’ and neighbors’ businesses in Baker County.
“It’s a very scary time,” Kassien said. “I just wish (Brown) could understand and see what this is going to do to small businesses.”
He said he fears that some local businesses will not survive the effects of the new restrictions.
Kassien said that although his restaurant lost revenue when similar restrictions were in effect this spring, local residents “rallied” to help many restaurants and other locally owned businesses.
“We did see a great outpouring of support,” Kassien said.
But he’s concerned that that won’t happen to the same extent now, in part because he thinks the restrictions the governor announced Friday will scare people to the point they won’t leave their homes, even to pick up a takeout order.
Kassien said he understands COVID-19 is potentially dangerous, and he said he “religiously” wears a face mask where it’s required, such as patronizing other businesses.
But he said he is “incredibly frustrated” that the latest restrictions affect restaurants and other businesses, even though Brown, as well as state health officials, have emphasized that the biggest culprits in the recent surge in cases are private social gatherings such as parties.
Kassien said he also finds the state’s approach inconsistent in that restaurants are severely limited in their operations, while grocery stores and other retail outlets only have to reduce their capacity to 75%.
“All of us small businesses are paying the price,” Kassien said. “It will affect Baker in the most negative way. People are going to lose jobs right before the holidays. The long-term effects from the shutdown are so detrimental to the economy of Baker County.”
In addition to the restrictions on businesses (see boxed story at right), Brown said she was telling individual Oregonians to limit social events to six people and that she had ordered the Oregon State Police to begin working with local law enforcement to limit social gatherings and use their discretion to enforce as citation, fine or arrest of a Class C misdemeanor.
Brown had said earlier this summer that she would not be “the party police” and send officers to private gatherings to enforce limit. That’s no longer the policy, she said.
“Unfortunately we have no other option,” Brown said.
As of Friday, Baker County has had 150 residents test positive for the virus, along with 54 additional “presumptive” cases, according to the Oregon Health Authority.
Presumptive cases are people who have had symptoms and close contact with someone who tested positive, but have not themselves tested positive.
Contact tracers from the county encourages people who are presumptive cases to be tested, but can’t require them to do so.
Gary A. Warner of the Oregon Capital Bureau contributed to this story.