The Oregon restaurant industry erupted in fury over Gov. Kate Brown’s April 26 decision to shut down bars and restaurants in 15 counties across the state in a last-ditch effort to stem a rise in COVID-19 cases.
In a statement released May 3, they made a puzzling rhetorical decision: Chefs blamed schools for COVID-19 spikes.
“It is clear from testimony that schools, not restaurants, are driving the overwhelming majority of new COVID cases,” said Jason Brandt, president and CEO of the Oregon Restaurant and Lodging Association. “Nonetheless, restaurants, which are taking the necessary precautions to ensure the safety of their employees and customers dining indoors, are shut down indoors at thousands of locations across 15 counties despite a lack of evidence to suggest they’re the source of spread.”
Oregon still has no idea where the majority of COVID cases are coming from—in part because rising case counts are overwhelming efforts to trace contacts.
But while current research suggests school reopenings are not tied to increases in community transmission of COVID-19, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says restaurant reopenings nationwide have resulted in an increase in cases.
That has not stopped one Republican gubernatorial hopeful, Sandy Mayor Stan Pulliam, from using the restaurant shuttering as a wedge issue. On May 3, Pulliam appeared at Spud Monkey’s, a Gresham bar that was defying the governor’s orders by staying open, to announce his support for a federal lawsuit against Brown, challenging her order.
His campaign strategy is one signal of the scale of the revolt Brown faces from restaurants, bars and their patrons.
Despite the insistence of industry lobbyists that restaurants are being scapegoated for COVID spread, the most recent state report of workplace outbreaks lists 10 dining rooms among the locations traced to five or more cases.
Those outbreaks range from three small-town McDonald’s to one of Portland’s best restaurants: Laurelhurst Market.
When WW contacted him about the outbreak at his upscale steakhouse, Ben Dyer, an owner of Your Neighborhood Restaurant Group, repeated the assertion that schools are fueling the rise in cases. “I don’t think it’s any coincidence that kids went back to school at the same time as restaurants reopening, he says, “and all of the sudden there’s a massive outbreak.”
Dyer says none of five cases at Laurelhurst Market are customers, but included a member of the waitstaff and a dishwasher. Laurelhurst Market hasn’t suffered the financial hardship of other restaurants thanks to an expansive outdoor seating area protected by a tent, but Dyer is displeased by the governor’s decision: “I haven’t seen any evidence that points to restaurants being the issue.”
Here are the restaurants with current outbreaks. RACHEL MONAHAN.
Restaurants on Oregon’s
Workplace Outbreak List
1. Kyllo’s Seafood & Grill, Lincoln City: 21 cases
(Investigation started April 4; most recent case April 10)
2. McDonald’s, South Broadway, Coos Bay: 18 cases
(Investigation started March 28; most recent case April 16)
3. McDonald’s, St. Helens: 16 cases
(Investigation started April 5; most recent case April 8)
4. de Fuego Grille, Clackamas: 14 cases
(Investigation started March 26; most recent case April 2)
5. Outpost Pub & Grill, John Day: 11 cases
(Investigation started April 9; most recent case April 9)
6. RAM Restaurant & Brewery, Medford: 10 cases
(Investigation started April 2; most recent case April 5)
7. Taco Bell, 6255 SE Tualatin Valley Highway, Hillsboro: 8 cases
(Investigation started March 30; most recent case April 2)
8. Laurelhurst Market, Southeast Portland: 5 cases
(Investigation started March 19; most recent case April 13)
9. McDonald’s, Dallas: 5 cases
(Investigation started April 25; most recent case April 24)
10. McGrath’s Fish House, Medford: 5 cases
(Investigation started April 23; most recent case April 19)