Restaurants gear up for reopening on Friday

Jason Jungling, owner of the Plaza Inn Restaurant in Ontario, set up an outdoor dining area in December to try to offset the loss of business from restaurants being closed to indoor dining. Jungling is aiming to open back up on Friday. According to the Oregon Health Authority, restaurants and bars can have up to 50% capacity or 100 people, whichever is smaller. They also have to close by 11 p.m.


Local restaurants are gearing up for inside dining on Friday now that Malheur County has jumped to the moderate risk level based on COVID-19 spread from extreme risk, for at least the next two weeks, into March, beginning Friday.

Gov. Kate Brown made the announcement on Tuesday afternoon.

Jason Jungling, co-owner of the Plaza Inn, said that it was good news, and that he had a larger shipment of food coming to be ready. Jungling has been having outside dining outside his business, fighting snow and wind to stay open.

At Bob’s Steak N’ Spirits in Nyssa, Bob Holmes is busy getting ready to reopen after being closed since Nov, 16, because of Malheur County being put in the “extreme risk” level which brought a ban on indoor dining. The impact on the restaurant industry has been hard, Holmes said.

“I’m glad to be opening and my employees are glad.” he said. “We are trying as hard as we can to stay open.”

According to the latest risk levels, which go into effect Friday, Malheur County will be joined by Union County in moving from “extreme risk” to “moderate risk,” completly bypassing “high risk.” The positivity rate in Malheur County has drastically dropped to 3.9% from Jan. 31 to Feb. 13, with only 24 confirmed cases in that time period, according to information on the Oregon Health Authority’s COVID-19 webpage.

Four counties moved from “high risk” and two counties, including Harney, moved from “lower risk” to “moderate risk.”

According to a news release from the Malheur County Health Department, this is the first time the county has been out of the extreme level since Dec. 3. However, the mandate that shuttered restaurants went into place on that went into place by Brown on Nov. 18. Meant to initially be a two-week “pause,” Brown extended it on Dec. 3.

“We offer our thanks to everyone in Malheur County who has worked together to make this change possible. It’s been a long time coming and we applaud this community. We should celebrate this milestone, but we should also keep things in perspective. We are moving into moderate risk, which is a lot better than extreme risk but still a clear indication that we are not out of the woods yet,” Malheur County Health Department Director Sarah Poe said in a news release. “We need to continue to follow the safety guidelines that have gotten us to this point: Wear a mask, limit gatherings, practice physical distancing, stay home if you feel unwell, wash your hands regularly, and get tested if you believe you may have been exposed to COVID-19. The reality is, one outbreak could put us right back into the extreme level.”

The new risk level is bases on new case counts and test positivity rate. Some restrictions will still apply with the reopening restaurants for bars, Poe said, including other businesses.

According to information posted by the Oregon Health Authority, in the “moderate risk” category, restaurants, bars, breweries and wineries are allowed to reopen for limited services, and must close by 11 p.m. Indoor dining can return to 50% capacity or 100 people, whichever is smaller, and there is a maximum of 6 people per table allowed. In outdoor dining settings, the capacity can be up to 150 people with up to 8 people per table.

Additionally, churches, funeral homes, mortuaries and cemeteries will be able accommodate up to 50% occupancy or 150 people indoors, and up to 250 people outdoors.

The number of people allowed in outdoor gardens is 150.

Indoor gyms, fitness facilities, museums and theaters can also have up to 50% occupancy, or 100 people, whichever is smaller, and indoor full-contact sports is still prohibited.

Outdoor full-contact sports are allowed in the “moderate risk” category, and up to 150 people can attend those outdoor activities.

Indoor and outdoor social gatherings are still limited to 8 and 10 people, respectively; with a suggestion of no more than two households for indoor gatherings

Grocery stores and pharmacies can operate up to 75% of capacity.

Hair salons, barbers and spas are allowed to operate.

“For the second time in a row, we are seeing great progress in stopping the spread of COVID-19 across Oregon and saving lives,” said Brown in a news release. “Oregonians continue to step up and make smart choices. While these county movements are welcome news, we must continue to take seriously health and safety measures, especially as more businesses reopen and we start to get out more. As we see infection rates going down and vaccinations ramping up, now is not the time to let down our guard. Continue to wear your masks, keep physical distance, and avoid indoor gatherings.”

County risk levels are updated every two weeks.

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