Wasco County was approved to enter Phase 2 of reopening last Friday, June 5, which means gatherings can be larger, pools can open and restaurants and bars can stay open later.
Northern Wasco County Parks and Recreation District will open Thompson Park Pool this summer with a modified schedule and safety procedure in place, said Scott Baker, district director. He said the opening date had yet to be determined.
In Phase 2, gathering limits raise to 50 people indoors, and 100 people outdoors. Under Phase 1, the numbers were 25 and 50.
Venues, including theaters and churches, can host up to 250 people, provided they have the space to create six feet of physical distancing between groups.
Bars and restaurants can stay open until midnight. Under Phase 1, they had to close by 10 p.m.
The move to Phase 2 comes as Wasco County completed the mandatory 21 days in Phase 1, which allowed dining in restaurants and other changes.
Oregon Gov. Kate Brown cautioned that moving to Phase 2 comes with increased risk of spreading COVID-19. “With every restriction lifted, we know transmission of the virus has the potential to increase,” Brown wrote to Wasco County Commission Chair Scott Hege on June 4.
“You should be proud of the work done thus far by your local public health department to test, track and isolate new cases of COVID-19,” she wrote. “That work has made it possible for your county to move to the next phase.”
Hege said, “Retail businesses can be open, all these things that have a lot of customer contact can be open, they just have guidelines.” But, he cautioned, “People need to still understand, the virus is not gone, we are not going back to normal.”
He said a lot of people get frustrated at wearing a mask, but he said he wears one if he’s going to a store. “I do it for the people in the store that are there to serve me. I do it for them and I think people need to think of it in that context,” he said.
Dr. Miriam McDonell, health officer for North Central Public Health District, said, “In public health, we know the significant challenges and losses that have occurred from the actions that have been taken to prevent the spread of COVID-19. So we are balancing relieving some of that stress with the potential for increases in illness, and we want to encourage everyone to do what is in their power to prevent the spread of COVID-19. So please keep wearing your masks and keeping your distance.”
Best practice calls for wearing a mask around others in public and staying at least six feet away from those not in your household.
Brown said Phase 2 was the last full phase until there is a widely available treatment or vaccine for COVID. The state has said counties won’t see Phase 3 until September or later.
In other Phase 2 changes, offices can begin reopening and employees can return to work with physical distancing in place, though remote work is strongly recommended.
Counties entering Phase 2 met requirements of having adequate personal protective equipment for hospitals and emergency responders, adequate hospital surge capacity, and adequate staff to quickly do contact tracing of people exposed.
Also critical is a place to house people under isolation or quarantine. Hege said that was one of the hang-ups to moving to Phase 2.
“We’ve been working with all the hotels to try to figure out a way that we can work with them to use rooms to put these folks in while they either go through the quarantine time or the isolation period,” Hege said.
“The thing is, it’s pretty clear — in fact it’s crystal clear — that a hotel can’t discriminate against COVID cases,” he said.
Local hotels were given information Friday by the North Central Public Health District on steps that will be taken to house people who have tested positive for COVID, which is called isolation, and people who have had contact with someone with COVID, which is called quarantine. They are kept in quarantine for 14 days to see if they get sick.
Hotels were also given a letter from Wasco County Counsel Kristen Campbell, which said the state will impose civil penalties on hotels breaking anti-discrimination laws.
Campbell noted that, as a "last resort," Oregon counties have "the ability to commandeer private property for public health purposes.
“It is the county’s strong preference to collaborate with you to provide necessary lodging that will have little to no impact on your operations,” Campbell wrote.
Hege said the county’s goal was to find a situation with local hotels that was “mutually acceptable.”
If lodging is needed, health district staff will make the room reservation and pay for it, and bring food and other essentials to those in isolation or quarantine. The hotel would not be responsible for room cleaning.
The health district will also pay for an extra day after the room is vacated, to allow the room to remain empty prior to cleaning.
In exchange for having their room paid for, those in isolation or quarantine agree to stay in their room and not have visitors, except health and support staff.
They will only talk to hotel staff by phone and wear a mask when entering and leaving the motel.
Soiled and clean linens will be left in bags outside the room.
Wasco is one of 26 counties entering Phase 2. Sherman and Gilliam counties were also approved for Phase 2.
Wasco County Clerk Lisa Gambee said the courthouse itself has been open, but with individual departments typically requiring access by appointment only. She said her door was closed, but if someone came in person for service, they would work with them. The sheriff’s office is open, Hege said, but isn’t offering services like fingerprinting.
County staff are either working remotely or taking staggered shifts working from the office, Hege said.
The city of The Dalles offices are closed to the public and City Manager Julie Krueger said last Friday that staff would meet this week to decide next steps.