The Wallowa County Commissioners want to begin opening Wallowa County, but only with proper safeguards in place. They also want local businesses to provide them with their plans for opening.

“We want to follow the governor’s required guidelines and ensure that everyone is safe,” said Commissioner Susan Roberts. “We’d like to open for local people before visitors from out of the county begin rushing here.”

However, reopening will have to receive approval from the governor’s office, and clearly show that it meets the criteria yet-to-be specified in the governor’s plan for opening. That plan is expected on or slightly after May 4.

To ensure that they can meet those guidelines, the commissioners are asking each business to provide the commissioners with their written plan for opening, detailing how they would mitigate the spread of Covid-19 and how they will minimize contact with employees, patrons, owners, and the community at large. Roberts said that such plans for individual businesses are a prerequisite for the governor’s approval of opening, and will also demonstrate Wallowa County’s readiness.

The commissioners also released a joint statement with their position on opening. Roberts also provided a template for businesses to use to develop an opening plan that will be required for approval to open their doors to the public.

Gov. Kate Brown has developed a draft plan for opening that may prioritize rural counties. The draft generally follows the federal guidelines released earlier this month. Brown expects to have the final version of Oregon’s opening plan completed on or after Monday, May 4.

But Roberts cautioned that the final opening guidelines may differ from those in the draft.

“The rules seem to be ever-changing,” she said.

Brown’s April 20 draft “Reopening Framework” was not released to the public, but was obtained by the Oregonian and other news sources. It depends on the results of “robust testing and contact tracing, health care system capacity, surge capacity and the presence of plans for health and safety.” Opening would require that there be a “downward trajectory of influenza-like illnesses, of “COVID-like syndromic cases…” and positive tests as percent of total tests.

Testing, which is critical to the plan, would include screening and testing for symptomatic individuals, screening for asymptomatic cases, and contact tracing of all COVID-19 cases.

A county opening plan, according to Brown’s draft, would have to protect the health and safety of workers in critical industries and in high-risk facilities, advise citizens on protocols for safety and monitor conditions.

The plan would open the state in three phases, and follows the federal guidelines published earlier this month. Exactly how it would be coordinated with Washington and California’s plans is not yet clear.

In phase one, schools and bars would remain closed and visits to hospitals and senior-living facilities would be prohibited. Church services, sit-down dining (e.g. restaurants) and gyms would open with “strict physical distancing and sanitation protocols.” Gatherings of up to 10 people would be allowed if social distancing protocols are followed. Phases 2 and 3 can follow 14 days (or more) after the previous phase has been in place and continue lifting restrictions.

For counties to open, they must submit a letter from hospital CEOs and CMOs committing to daily reporting on PPE supplies and hospital bed surge capacity, the recommendation of the county health officer and the vote of the commissioners certifying that PPE supplies are sufficient for first responders.

On Friday, Baker County submitted its opening plan to the governor’s office.

Wallowa County’s plan is still being developed.

However, complications and new medical findings continue to arise, and may further delay full and final opening. Speaking to Meet the Press on Sunday, April 26, Dr. Deborah Birx, the head of the president’s coronavirus task force, said “… social distancing will be with us through the summer to really ensure that we protect one another as we move through these phases.” Birx also acknowledged that rural communities had different scales of the disease than urban areas, but she did not specify exactly what that meant.

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