Governor issues warning to non-compliant businesses

Lane County rang in the new year last Friday with a small dip in confirmed cases of COVID-19, according to Lane County Public Health. However, by Monday (Jan. 4), that number had jumped once again, adding 285 cases of the virus over the weekend.

Though the number of cases within the Cottage Grove and Creswell area had been steadily rising in past weeks, the most recent weekend spike had been in early December following the Thanksgiving holiday. 

Last weekend’s sudden rise mirrors a trend occurring through much of Lane County, which remains in the “extreme risk” category as determined by the latest state metrics. 

The county continues to struggle with not only containing the virus but reducing the number of infections — which would help the county meet “high risk” or “moderate risk” metrics thresholds and allow for reduced restrictions, such as limited indoor seating for restaurants and other venues.

“Oregon’s health and safety measures are in place to protect Oregonians, save lives and keep our hospitals and health care workers from becoming overwhelmed by COVID-19,” Gov. Kate Brown said in a statement issued Dec. 31 in anticipation of New Year’s Eve and the potential for social gatherings. “Oregonians have made incredible sacrifices throughout this pandemic and, now, many communities across Oregon are reducing the spread of COVID-19 and moving into risk levels that allow restaurants and businesses to re-open to at least some indoor service.”

In the coastal Lane County community of Florence, two restaurants — Little Brown Hen and Firehouse Restaurant — have re-opened for indoor dining despite the ban instituted by the governor for restaurants located within “extreme risk” counties. 

In an interview last week with Rick Dancer, host of “Get Real,” Little Brown Hen owner Stacey Brown Wilson said the decision was difficult but necessary.

“It was either open and try to salvage my business and my employees’ lively hood or close the doors permanently,” said Wilson. “We are simply trying to survive. For those who presume I don’t care about my community, they couldn’t be more mistaken.”

Wilson added that while the decision was “difficult” and that her actions are not intended to make a statement about the state or governor’s authority, she added that she is exercising a constitutional right to run a business.

The reaction on social media from residents, as well as out-of-towners, was been mixed; some applauded the decision while others called it irresponsible given the county’s current infection rates and Florence’s large population of at-risk seniors.

“Good for you. Thank you for opening up. We will be there soon for breakfast from Eugene. We support you 100%!!!!” commented Allison Lengele

“The Firehouse was hopping tonight and the food was excellent! Thank you Kylie McKenzie Cook,” posted Florence resident Kelly Wall Kawahara.

“Praying for your continued blessings and success. We know the struggle you are fighting against and want you to know that we will honor and support your restaurant whenever we come to Florence, which is as often as we can,” said Jan Hickman.

But Florence resident Mark Immel was among those opposed to restaurants opening during the mandate, commenting to Eugene news station KEZI, “I think it’s irresponsible to put other people at risk and give them a potentially fatal disease. I think it’s a really bad idea. I can certainly understand people’s economic woes in this time but, you know, so many of us have to just pivot and do business a different way.”

Closer to home in Creswell, Emerald Fitness Club owners Shane and Sara May expressed their frustration in a guest Viewpoint in The Sentinel (Dec. 31) regarding the mandated closures of certain businesses — including fitness centers.

“Those of us in the health and fitness industry have spent our entire lives focused on science, data and proven methods to improve the overall wellness of our clients. Everything we do is based on facts and data,” they wrote. “So, it is frustrating to see that the arbitrary decision by the governor to close all health and fitness facilities is contrary to all existing data.”

The Mays explained that gyms and fitness facilities have taken the necessary precautions to ensure the safety of members when they visit, including increased ventilation, masks-wearing requirements, social distancing and strict sanitazation requirements. 

“We know we can operate safely, and the proof is in the data,” they wrote, citing a contact tracing study in New York that found, of 46,000 COVID cases, only 0.06 percent could be traced back to a gym.

“Between our two Emerald Fitness Club facilities, we have had nearly 40,000 check-ins since reopening in June and have not had a single case of COVID traced back to either of our facilities,” said the Mays.

However, in her statement last Thursday, Governor Brown responded to the decision by some businesses that choose to defy the state’s COVID-19 mandates.

“If businesses reopen too early and, instead, create new spikes in COVID-19 cases, the actions of a few business owners could set entire communities back and keep them in the ‘extreme risk’ category for even longer” said Brown, reminding businesses that OSHA and the Oregon Liquor Control Commission (OLCC) will enforce the orders through citations, fines and red-warning notices.

According to a spokesman for OSHA, the agency has already received multiple complaints regarding the Little Brown Hen and its reopening to indoor dining, noting that an investigation is currently underway.

In the meantime, the challenges faced by those trying to save their businesses — as well as area residents trying to avoid the rise in COVID-19 infections — continues without a clear path forward for either group.

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