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Clatsop County moves to reopen during pandemic

First step could come Friday

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Clatsop County hopes to begin the first phase of reopening from coronavirus restrictions.

The county Board of Commissioners voted Monday to approve submitting the county’s plan to Gov. Kate Brown . If the plan is approved, the county can begin phase one as soon as Friday.

Ghost downtown

Clatsop County hopes to start phase one of a reopening plan.

The governor has released a blueprint to lift government restrictions in Oregon in three phases and the state has started reviewing applications from counties.

Phase one focuses on reopening businesses and services that predominantly serve locals. Groups of up to 25 people will be allowed to congregate and restaurants, retail stores, child care facilities and personal care businesses like gyms and salons can open with conditions.

“The goal is to not do anything that would encourage visitors to allow the local communities to find out what the new normal is just by opening up businesses,” County Manager Don Bohn said.

The first phase would last 21 days.

The governor could lift a ban on nonessential travel and other restrictions in phase two. The county would likely not end restrictions on visitors to hotels and other lodging until the state removes the travel ban.

Phases two and three are still being developed, however, and more conditions could be added if necessary. Large gatherings in Oregon, for example, will be restricted through September or until there is a reliable treatment for the virus or prevention like a vaccine.

“I think that we have all known that the transition out of the closures was going to be a challenge,” Bohn said.

“And the reason it’s particularly challenging is because we have folks who want to move back to the normal that they so desire. And this has been a shock to a lot of people’s system of having the economy closed, having them be restricted in their movement, restricted in their employment.

“And so, there is this sort of cascading desire to move back to normal, but the problem is, is we’re not quite there yet. And we may not be there for a while. It kind of makes people feel a false sense of normalcy just by the fact that we’re talking about opening up the economy.”

Bohn said the county meets the criteria for phase one.

“As much as we are all moving forward in a coordinated way process-wise and we’re all following the same governor’s guidelines and the same sectors, there are unique flavors that are uniquely North Coast. And our plan allows us to integrate those considerations. And those mainly focus on lodging, camping and our relationship with the state and federal parks,” Bohn said.

There are seven criteria the county must meet, including a declining prevalence of the virus, adequate testing, a contact tracing system, isolation facilities, health and safety guidelines for businesses, sufficient health care capacity and a sufficient supply of personal protective equipment.

The county does not believe recent outbreaks at Bornstein Seafoods and Pacific Seafood will derail the reopening plan.

Declining prevalence of the virus is measured by a 14-day drop in hospital admissions for the virus and if the percentage of emergency room visits are less than the historic average for the flu at the same time of the year.

None of the positive cases in Clatsop County have required hospitalizations so far, according to the county.

Bohn said a sufficient supply of personal protective equipment for emergency responders was not defined by the governor, so the county has defined it as having a 21-day supply. Commissioners voted Monday to certify there are sufficient supplies available for emergency responders.

The county’s Public Health Department is beginning to schedule appointments for drive-thru community testing for the coronavirus, and will begin testing on Tuesday. The county hopes to conduct 300 tests per week, which exceeds the state’s definition for adequate testing capacity.

Bohn said people will have to comply with the conditions to move through the phases as quickly as possible. He said there will always be a small percentage of people who do not want to comply, but the county is making progress with the majority.

Sheriff Matt Phillips said the county has seen tensions rise through the closures.

“I’m hoping that this next level of opening will reengage the citizens in complying with the governor’s orders now that they’re seeing a little bit of progress,” he said.

Nicole Bales is a reporter for The Astorian, covering police, courts and county government. Contact her at 971-704-1724 or nbales@dailyastorian.com.

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