VALE — Malheur County has joined a number of Oregon counties that have submitted a plan to the state of how they will reopen after being shut down due to the novel coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic.

The plan, which includes three phases, was approved Wednesday by the Malheur County Court, and sent on to Gov. Kate Brown’s office for final approval. The first plans were completed by Harney and Baker counties, and Lake and Grant counties are working on theirs, according to a report by state Rep. Mark Owens, R-Crane.

Malheur County’s three-tiered plan begins on May 8, with restaurants, retailers and other businesses that meet specific requirements, including maintaining social distancing rules, cloth face covering, frequent disinfecting and monitoring employees for symptoms, being able to open.

It is noteworthy that restaurants which allow in-person dining must collect “contact tracing data,” which includes “every patron’s name, contact information, time in and time out of the facility.”

One local restaurant owner, Jason Jungling at the Plaza Inn, which has been open for take-out, said that he has already heard some complaints from customers about the proposed contact tracing data. The customer told him it was nothing more than government tracking.

However, as Jungling understands, that information will only be used if a positive case somehow connected to the restaurant, in which case the list would be used to contact people who may have potentially been exposed.

Cross-border traffic

There have only been seven lab-confirmed positive cases of the virus in Malheur County, with no hospitalizations, to date, and no positive cases in a high-risk setting.

To help address challenges of COVID-19, the county has formed the COVID-19 Taskforce, a health-care provided team and a community wide multi-agency committee. Members meet weekly and have ongoing communication.

One of the county’s biggest challenges is its high poverty rate, in which many residents live in chronic crisis, the overview of the plan reads.

“Many people in the community do not have the means to be ‘two weeks ready,’ to work from home, to social distance in crowed homes or even to take temperature regularly with a thermometer,” it states.

“Reopening sectors of public life and business while reducing the risks of COVID-19, are needed to start repairing the damage of the social structures in the community that protect individuals and families, businesses and resilience vitally needed right now.”

Noting that Malheur County shares a border with Idaho, which is set to have the first of its four-phase reopening on Friday, Malheur County must consider the implications of the cross-border traffic and Idaho’s reopening on county residents and businesses.

Malheur County’s plan takes a phased approach in which restrictions will gradually be lifted with each step. However, some restrictions will still apply.

For example, in phase three, public and private gatherings would be limited to no more than 50 people, with proper social distancing. In addition, businesses will be advised to screen all employees before work.

Still needs OK from governor

In his news release, Owners said, phase one begins when Gov. Brown approves a county’s plan. Furthermore, the county’s must shows a downward trend in COVID-19-like symptoms and a downward trend in positive cases, as well as show that their hospitals are ready to treat patients.

“The counties in District 60 have taken the initiative in allowing the process the governor has laid out. The plans submitted to the governor crate a great outline that can be used by other counties.” Owens said.

State Sen. Lynn Findley and Owens say Brown has had the Baker County plan for a week and has not yet responded.

“Our communities and small business are dying, and this plan is a positive step for all,” their joint statement reads. “We urge the governor to act now and do not delay this any further, please support the implantation of the process you have laid out.”

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