Gov. Brown bans gatherings of 250 people or more due to COVID-19

Gov. Kate Brown addressed the state today about plans to stop the spread of COVID-19.

MALHEUR COUNTY — The impact of a ban on events and activities that draw 250 or more people in Oregon is already impacting Malheur County with cancellations of events and some health facilities banning non-essential visitors. Even a sporting event for differently abled athletes, Support the Court, an annual event slated for March 16 has been cancelled.

Gov. Kate Brown on Wednesday night said effective immediately thru April 8, there is a ban on public events and activities that draw crowds of 250 people or more people. The reason: the novel coronavirus, COVID-19.

The announcement includes suggesting that all non-essential school school-associated gathering and group activities be canceled (including parent meetings, field trips and competitions). For those at work, the governor recommended that people increase personal space between each other and limit in-person meetings, travel and stagger work schedules when possible.

“Nobody is immune to this virus, it can touch everyone,” Brown said in her release. “We can’t let fear and anxiety stigmatize people. We are seeing cases across multiple counties and age groups, and in people exposed through different circumstances. It’s time for us all to do what we can to slow its spread and take care of one another.”

In addition, a news conference was planned for this morning in which she plans to announce social distancing measures.

As of Wednesday, Oregon has 21 people who have been diagnosed with COVID-19 since Feb. 28 with four new presumptive positive cases, according to information on the Oregon Health Authority’s website. None of those cases are in eastern Oregon; however one of the newest cases is in central Oregon — specifically Deschutes county, home to Bend. Other new confirmed cases include one each in Polk, Marion and Umatilla counties.

Earlier Wednesday Washington Gov. Jay Inslee also enacted a ban on large events in certain areas of the state.

Four Rivers Cultural Center

One of the major hubs in the Western Treasure Valley where major local events are held is Four Rivers Cultural Center. Events there frequently draw crowds of more than 250 people.

Many upcoming events are scheduled to take place in the next months, including the fifth annual Border Town Comic Con scheduled for March 21 and 22 and the Gunsmoke Gun Show scheduled for March 28.

Tanya Navarrete, director of development and communication, said during a phone interview said that officials at the Cultural Center were scheduled to meet this morning regarding the state of event programming for the facility.

“So far there is no plan of action yet,” said Navarrete.

She said that the staff meeting, which is scheduled for 8:30 a.m. this morning, will address the concerns over public gatherings how this will affect the Cultural Center’s ability to continue to provide community programming.

“Not sure what that means for programming,” explained Navarrete.

She went to explain how another focus of the meeting is reaching out to those outside entities that have events scheduled at the Cultural Center and decide what to do to in reaction to the Governor’s order. Navarrete said that while details were scarce, another point of discussion may be how this will affect the center economically in the long run.

Spring into wellness moves to fall

According to an email from Malheur County Health Department Director Sarah Poe, “The Malheur LCAC Spring Into Wellness events scheduled for Adrian (3/12), Jordan Valley (3/17), and Nyssa (3/19) are cancelled and will be rescheduled for the fall.”

Poe went on to state, “With more positive cases in Oregon (21 total), we must follow state guidance for social distancing measures and cancel mass gatherings and non-essential meetings. We will be sharing a press release with further details later today.”

More information from the health department is available at

Poe concluded her message, “Thank you for your understanding as we work to keep our community healthy.”

Spelling bee buzzes despite COVID-19

While Oregon Gov. Kate Brown has issued a temporary ban on public gatherings of over 250 people, the 4th annual Malheur County Spelling Bee buzzed along at Nyssa Elementary School this morning.

The bee was conducted in individual sessions by grade level, running concurrently throughout the morning.

Principal Matt Murray noted that the Bee overall would involve a total of up to 230 people, including participants, their parents, and Bee officials. With about 90 students participating in the Bee, Murray said they are keeping student safety in mind and would turn away parents should the legal capacity be approached.

“We have found the numbers are the greatest at the beginning,” Murray said, noting that he has observed each year that crowds tend to shrink before the final rounds approach later in the day, as participants are eliminated.

Results from the spelling bee were not available as of press time.

Nursing home facilities visitation limited

“We are taking a proactive approach rather than reactive,” stated

Tom Hathaway, CEO of Pioneer Place Skilled Nursing and Rehabilitation / Pioneer Place Assisted Living.

In a phone interview on Thursday morning, Hathaway took the time to explain what measures are being taken to limit individuals’ exposure to COVID-19.

“The Oregon Department of Human Services issued an order to restrict visitors,” said Hathaway.

He provided a copy of the issue from Oregon DHS outlining the protocols that need to be adhered to for nursing, assisted living and residential care facilities. The statement does specifically say that this list of facilities includes those with “Memory Care Endorsements.”

Hathaway also stated that activities involving any type of travel are temporarily being restricted. He sited “field trips” and “trips to the grocery.”

“[We’ve] cancelled church groups, bible study, no way of knowing who they’ve been exposed to,” said Hathaway.

The guidelines they’re following are outlined in the executive order issued from Oregon DHS.

Malheur County Sheriff Brian Wolfe said nursing homes “really have the most vulnerable population.”

Hospital follows suit

Saint Alphonsus Medical Center-Ontario is also barring the entrance of non-essential people.

A meeting scheduled between the Argus and staff at the facility today was requested to be conducted via phone.

“In an abundance of caution – we are cancelling meetings to ensure only employees and patients are in the hospital,” reads an email from Claudia Weathermon Tester, in marketing and communications, to an employee at The Argus Observer.

“Can we do our meeting by telephone?”

Nik Streng is the sports reporter for the Argus Observer. He graduated from the University of Oregon in 2015 with a master's degree in journalism, after graduating from Pacific University in 2013 with a degree in creative writing.

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