Oregon Governor Says 28 Counties Can Reopen Tomorrow

UPDATE: It's 31 now.

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown has sanctioned the reopening of most of the state, including Eugene and Bend. Twenty-eight counties can begin to reopen restaurants, bars, gyms and salons from stay-home orders starting tomorrow, May 15.

"This is good news," the governor said.

This morning, Brown announced the approval of plans from 28 counties to start the first phase of reopening businesses from the COVID-19 closures she mandated in late March.

Thirty-three of Oregon's 36 counties applied to reopen. The three Portland-area counties—Multnomah, Washington and Clackamas—did not apply. They are expected to seek approval in early June.

The governor rejected two applications, from Polk and Marion counties. In both counties, COVID-19 hospitalizations had increased over the past 14 days. Marion County continues to be the epicenter of the state's COVID-19 outbreak.

The governor is asking for more information from Jefferson, Umatilla and Morrow counties. (UPDATE, 3:55 pm: The governor sanctioned the reopening of these three counties, bringing the total to 31 of 36 counties.)

"My job is to make hard decisions, even when they are unpopular," Brown said. "When it comes to the health and safety of Oregonians, the buck stops right here.…I am not here to make everyone happy."

The governor's green light, while limited, allows most of the state to reemerge from seven weeks of remaining at home. It carries significant risks: Some models show COVID-19 cases and deaths could spike if people gather in groups.

Brown's decision comes as much of the nation is reopening, and as many Oregonians are anxious to return to work and play. Yet the coronavirus is hardly eliminated in Oregon, and the governor warned that she could shut down counties again if cases spike.

"We are venturing out onto thin ice," she said, "and we need to step carefully and cautiously."

Most press questions following the governor's announcement focused on whether today's step was a safe one.

"We're looking at multiple markers," said Dr. Dean Sidelinger, the state epidemiologist. "While there is an uptick in cases, some of that is due to testing more individuals. Our hospitalization numbers continue to decline. We feel that we are in a good place in these counties to monitor the spread of the disease and keep Oregonians safe."

The governor also warned Portlanders not to use the reopening as a chance to vacation in other counties. She said a stay-home order remains in place in the metro area, and added that she would soon issue a new executive order to clarify what Portlanders can and cannot do.

"We are asking folks in the metropolitan area to be thoughtful of their neighbors," she said. Oregon Health Authority director Pat Allen added: "Reopening is a team sport."