PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — As Oregon moves closer to lifting COVID-19 related restrictions statewide and reopening the economy, Gov. Kate Brown announced Tuesday that 21 of the state's 36 counties will increase capacity in restaurants, gyms, indoor entertainment venues and retail stores beginning on Friday.
For more than a year Oregon has faced some of the nation’s strictest safety measures — county risk levels, mask requirements inside and outside, limited gatherings and restaurants closed for indoor dining. But as vaccination numbers increase, restrictions have been loosened as the state shifts from emergency response to pandemic recovery.
Last month, Brown set statewide and county vaccination targets, with the hope of reopening the state’s economy by the end of June.
The vaccination target for individual counties is 65% of adults in the area to have received at least their first dose. Once a county reaches the goal, they move into the “lower risk” category which allows a county to significantly reduce its COVID-19 restrictions — 50% capacity for indoor dining, theaters, gyms and other indoor entertainment spaces. “Lower risk” also allows expansion of indoor gatherings to 10 people and retail store capacity to 75%.
County risk level changes are updated each week, based on vaccination rates or declining case rates and positivity rates. On Tuesday, Brown announced that three counties — Lane, Coos and Wasco — would be joining 18 other counties in the lowest risk level.
The counties in the Lower Risk tier will be: Baker, Benton, Clatsop, Coos, Curry, Deschutes, Gilliam, Grant, Hood River, Lake, Lane, Lincoln, Morrow, Multnomah, Sherman, Tillamook, Union, Wallowa, Wasco, Washington and Wheeler.
While the capacity increase for most of the state's counties is an improvement, once Oregon reaches the statewide target of 70% of adults having received at least their first dose of COVID-19 vaccine, restrictions will be loosened more. County-based metrics would be dropped and health and safety guidance for businesses, venues and faith organizations would be lifted.
In addition, masks and face coverings would no longer be required in most settings, with some exceptions including airports, public transit and health care settings.
Because the same mask and social distancing rules would apply for all individuals, the controversial vaccine verification would no longer be necessary, Brown said.
Currently more than 66% of people who are 18 or older in the state had been vaccinated.
“Oregon is so close to more fully reopening our economy, and I am grateful to everyone who has stepped up to get vaccinated," Brown said. “We will soon need to reach fewer than 100,000 Oregonians to achieve our statewide vaccination goal.”
Sara Cline is a corps member for The Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local news