Clatsop County will remain at extreme risk for the coronavirus through Feb. 11, with slight modifications to restrictions prohibiting indoor activity at restaurants, bars, gyms and entertainment venues effective Friday.

The modifications announced by Gov. Kate Brown allow for a maximum of six people indoors at facilities over 500 square feet in counties classified at extreme risk. One customer and one employee are allowed in smaller indoor facilities. Indoor dining will still be prohibited.

Columbia River Maritime Museum

Some larger venues will have greater flexibility on indoor activity under the state’s virus restrictions.

“Most of the state remains in the extreme risk category,” the governor said in a statement Tuesday. “This is an important reminder for all Oregonians to continue to do their part by abiding by the health and safety guidelines in place. Until vaccines are widely available with high participation rates, the surest way to lower our risk and open our businesses and communities is to continue practicing the measures we know are effective in reducing the spread of COVID-19 — wear your mask, keep physical distance from others, avoid gatherings, wash your hands often and stay home when you are sick.

“The science has shown us that outdoor activities are safer than indoor activities when it comes to the spread of COVID 19, which is why we have clearly delineated guidance between indoor and outdoor activities,” Brown said. “We have seen over the last several weeks that Oregonians have largely complied with risk levels to the point that we have not seen a surge in hospitalizations that would have jeopardized hospital capacity. This means we are able to make these adjustments for extreme risk counties, which should assist both businesses and Oregonians as we continue to work to stop the spread of COVID-19.”

Clatsop County, which has been at extreme risk since Jan. 15, is among 25 counties that will be at the highest risk level until Feb. 11, including Columbia County and the rest of the Portland metro area. Tillamook County will be moved from extreme risk to lower risk.

Counties with a population of 30,000 or more are evaluated for risk based on virus cases per 100,000 over two weeks and the test positivity rate for the same period.

Counties at extreme risk have a case rate exceeding 200 or more per 100,000 people, and may have a test positivity rate of 10% or higher.

As of Saturday, Clatsop County had 203 cases per 100,000 over a two-week period. Test positivity was 5.9%.

Restrictions

While indoor dining is still prohibited at bars and restaurants in counties at extreme risk, the governor’s modifications allow outdoor dining pods and an adjustment to tents. A maximum of six people are allowed to use lottery terminals indoors.

For gyms, indoor pools, museums, theaters and other entertainment venues 500 square feet or larger, a maximum of six customers are allowed. For smaller indoor facilities less than 500 square feet, only one customer and one employee are allowed for services like personal training.

Outdoor dining is allowed for up to 50 people with an 11 p.m. closing time. Tables must be limited to six people from two households.

Outdoor entertainment, recreation and fitness facilities can operate with a maximum capacity of 50 people.

Indoor and outdoor social gatherings will be limited to six people from two households.

Grocery stores, pharmacies, retail shops and shopping malls can operate at 50% of capacity.

Churches can stay open at 25% of capacity or 100 people indoors, whichever is smaller, and 150 people outdoors.

Businesses are required to have employees work remotely, if able, and close offices to the public.

Only outdoor visits will be allowed at long-term care facilities.

Over the past month, political and business leaders on the North Coast have called on the governor and the Oregon Health Authority to end prohibitions on indoor activity in counties at extreme risk.

Astoria Mayor Bruce Jones sent a letter to the governor on Dec. 31, endorsed by Warrenton Mayor Henry Balensifer and Seaside Mayor Jay Barber, arguing that the prohibitions are unnecessarily burdensome on businesses, and that capacity should be the same as counties at high risk — 25% or 50 people, whichever is smaller.

David Reid, the executive director of the Astoria-Warrenton Area Chamber of Commerce, sent a similar letter to the governor and health authority in early January requesting evidence to support the need for the prohibitions.

The Clatsop County Board of Commissioners also supported eliminating prohibitions in a letter to the governor on Jan. 13.

“The easing of the restrictions does not address the original question that mayors and businesses across the state have been asking: Where’s the data to justify the tightest restrictions — even these new restrictions,” Balensifer said.

“Officials have been and are asking — begging — for the cold, hard data behind the decisions being made about their futures, livelihoods and even their lives. Why does the state scorn officials for seeking information?”

The Oregon Mayors Association Board of Directors, which includes Balensifer, called for the extreme risk category to be eliminated altogether.

“While we fully acknowledge that COVID-19 is a threat and that preventative and protective measures are critical, we respectfully request increased communication and consideration, including data sharing,” the board wrote in a letter to Brown on Tuesday. “We, as a body, request a release of data on the efficacy of the full closures, specifically of eating and drinking establishments, indoor recreation and fitness establishments as required in the ‘extreme risk’ category. To date, no such data or cogent rationale has been forthcoming.

“As of the date of this letter, a great many elected officials have already requested this information from your office with no substantive response. As we are aware, the vast majority of cities in Oregon have not seen these shuttered sectors contribute more COVID-19 infections than any other workplace.

“We are not suggesting trading public health for commerce. However, cities should be trusted conduits of information supporting state and national efforts, including that which limits the spread of COVID-19. Unfortunately, the necessary information has remained inaccessible, making it impossible to inform ourselves and citizens that the great sacrifices they are making are necessary.

“We are fully committed to supporting data-linked measures to keep our residents safe, but we must have data to defend the decisions. What data, for example, suggests that limited indoor dining is more dangerous than extended periods at lottery machines? In today’s digital world, people fill in the gaps when there is insufficient information. This has led to widespread misinformation, contributing to distrust of government at all levels.

“While a small contingent has suggested ignoring the state restrictions, the vast majority have not.”

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