Mayor of Astoria “Appalled” by “Irresponsible Vacationers” Hitting the Oregon Coast During a Pandemic

He and other coastal officials are closing campgrounds and canceling vacation rentals.

Astoria, Oregon. (Sam Gehrke)

The sight of Oregonians sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic Saturday to enjoy spring break at the coast during the COVID-19 pandemic was too much for Astoria Mayor Bruce Jones.

He issued a statement tonight decrying "irresponsible vacationers" and calling on Oregon Gov. Kate Brown to close state parks. Jones pledged to convene an emergency meeting of the Astoria City Council to close campgrounds and short-term rentals in his city.

Many people ignored Brown's plea to stay home this weekend—an instruction still not backed by any force of law—and went to the beach in the midst of a COVID-19 outbreak that has killed four Oregon residents and threatens thousands more. The governor was said to be "frustrated" by the blasé response to her entreaties.

But no one was as furious as Jones.

"Today we have been appalled by the sight of tens of thousands of irresponsible vacationers flocking to the coast, as if this was just another spring break week, with callous disregard for residents' health and safety," he wrote tonight. "This, despite the governor's strong urging to stay at home and prohibitions on gatherings larger than 25, [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] recommendations against gatherings larger than 10, and the constant urgings of the CDC to practice social distancing and stay home except for essential tasks."

Part of Jones' outrage? Spreading disease in coastal towns could overwhelm the health resources of communities that are largely populated by retirees.

Jones says he and several other coastal officials have asked Brown to close state parks.

"Throughout the day today, I and other public officials in Clatsop and Tillamook counties have been urging Gov. Brown's staff to have her close the overcrowded state parks and campgrounds immediately and take other actions to stem the flow of tourists to our coast," he wrote.

The state plans to close state campgrounds April 2 the Eugene Register-Guard reports.

Jones praised Warrenton Mayor Henry Balensifer for closing that town's campgrounds and canceling its vacation rentals.

On Saturday afternoon, Balensifer gave visitors 24 hours to leave town.

"My message is, tourists, don't come here, not right now," Balensifer said in a video. "We'll welcome you back later, the beach is always going to be here, clams are still in the ocean—they don't catch COVID-19."

Jones sought to expand that ban across Clatsop County. "We don't want vacationers turned away from Warrenton to simply move to Astoria or other county jurisdictions," he wrote.

Jones says coastal mayors have a Sunday afternoon conference call scheduled with the governor. She faces a chorus of public health experts demanding a stay home or shelter in place order.

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