A number of Oregon lawmakers and county leaders have signed a letter to Gov. Kate Brown requesting a meeting to revisit the recent emergency declaration and imposition of requirements to limit the spread of COVID-19. It was signed by 49 senators, representatives and county commissioners, including Malheur County Court members Judge Dan Joyce and Commissioners Larry Wilson and Don Hodge.
State Sen. Lynn Findley, R-Vale, and State Rep. Mark Owens, R-Crane, were the lead writers and signers.
They opened the letter saying the “one-size-fits-all” approach to shutting down the state was appropriate last spring when the pandemic was new and little was known.
However, the letter notes that much has been learned since then, and that there have been improvements.
“Keeping counties and regions in a Phase II [response] for an indefinite period of time is a one-size-fits-all approach that does not work any longer,” it reads.
Starting Wednesday, Brown put the state in a two-week freeze, limiting the size of gatherings to limit person-to-person contact.
The measure limits the size of gatherings for church services and other faith-based events, social gatherings at home, limits restaurant and bars to takeout and delivery service only, closes recreation facilities indoors and outdoors, and limits occupancy of retail business to 75 percent capacity.
“It is time to re-evaluate the metrics and the ever-changing goalposts related to slowing the spread of COVID-19 in our rural, semi-rural, eastern and frontier communities,” the letter reads. “We have shut down for months, we have met the metrics required, we have followed the goalposts as they’ve moved and we have adhered to the rules. We slowed the spread — and yet our counties, communities, small businesses, K-12 schools, childcare and college, health department and more sit in a stale and stagnant state without forward progress.”
The letter also notes that the counties have met the original goal of ensuring there is adequate hospital capacity, and that their respective medical facilities have not been overwhelmed.
“Our students are struggling in their education, as well as their mental and emotional fitness, families have been stressed to the maximum and decade-old businesses that are the lifeblood of our Oregon communities have closed for good,” it reads.
“We must make significant changes to the way our systems are being managed going forward. It is not realistic or sustainable to continue in Phase 1 or II, as currently described, for our districts, counties and communities.”
The proposed changes include allowing the hospitality industry to stay open, allowing schools to fully re-open for in-classroom learning and extracurricular activities, reopen state agencies and release church and places of worship from gathering limit.
The letters states that county officials, lawmakers and others have been meeting on these issues, and invites the governor to participate.
“As leaders chosen by Oregonians to represent their best interest and be their advocates throughout and across our beautiful state, we would ask that the governor and governor’s office participate in these meeting and work with us, assess the proposals and plans we put forward and consider the options we will be recommending for you consideration and approval,” the letter concludes.