It was a belated move, but at least the Oregon Health Authority dropped Baker County to the lowest risk level for COVID-19 spread before the first holiday weekend of summer.

The change took effect today, May 27.

Restaurants, bars, theaters, museums and fitness centers can welcome customers up to 50% of capacity.

Baker County hadn’t been at the lowest risk level since April 22. The county moved to the high risk level on April 23, then to extreme risk on April 30.

The county returned to high risk on May 7 and had been at that level until today, even though the case rate subsequently has dropped to its lowest level since October 2020.

The next milestone is likely to happen in less than a month. Gov. Kate Brown said she will cancel restrictions statewide when 70% of Oregonians 18 and older are at least partially vaccinated. As of Wednesday, May 26, that figure was at 64.4%.

Until the state reaches the 70% threshold, state officials should keep Baker County at the lowest level of restrictions, barring a major outbreak of the sort that has yet to happen here during the pandemic. Our business owners have suffered enough from limitations that are not only stringent, but that have at times changed every two weeks, making it difficult if not impossible for owners to plan ahead.

It’s unconscionable for the state to continue to punish businesses, with no evidence that they have contributed to the spread of COVID-19, simply because the county’s test positivity rate slightly exceeds an arbitrary level. The county could have dropped to lowest risk May 21, but the positivity rate, due solely to statistics from the first week of May, was 8.9% over a two-week measuring period, above the threshold of 8% to stay out of high risk.

During the most recent two-week measuring period, the positivity rate was 3.6%, below the 5% threshold for lowest risk status.

Baker County residents have made great progress in curbing COVID-19 this month. We’re preparing for a summer that should be much closer to normal than 2020 was. Without a defensible reason, state officials shouldn’t cast clouds over this bright prospect.

— Jayson Jacoby, Baker City Herald editor

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