Gov. Kate Brown, under fire for the ambiguous guidelines she issued Friday on social distancing, issued a more definitive order Monday morning that establishes legally enforceable restrictions on public activity in response to the coronavirus outbreak.
“If we all do it, we can save lives,” Brown said on a press call Monday afternoon.
The governor instructed people to stay home except when traveling for essential work, buying food and similar critical supplies or returning to their own homes. Recreational travel, of the kind that brought swarms of Oregonians to the coast last weekend in defiance of the governor’s earlier directive, is now forbidden by law.
Monday’s order, which cites authority under four state statutes, is the most profound action in a series of steps that have fundamentally altered life in Oregon this month.
Those who defy the order can be charged with endangering public health, a class C misdemeanor. People found to have violated her order could be jailed for up to 30 days or fined $1,250, though law enforcement agencies said Monday they’re more likely to inform people about the restrictions than cite them for violations.
The order shuts down playgrounds, parks and many other gathering spots. It also closes businesses including shopping malls, tattoo parlors, barber shops and gyms, places where people cannot consistently keep their distance from one another.
But the governor’s announcement specifically exempted construction and manufacturing, two economic pillars, which may continue operating so long as they “ensure that their employees are maintaining social distancing measures.”
The announcement made no mention whatsoever of many other industries, from hardware stores to gas stations to marijuana shops.
On Monday, Brown said businesses that she didn’t specifically order closed may remain open so long as they have practices to impede infection and someone responsible for making sure the company follows those practices.
“I am not interested in taking someone’s job or shutting down someone’s business if they can practice social distancing at work,” Brown said.
The aim is to sharply reduce the spread of the coronavirus outbreak, which has infected nearly 200 Oregonians and killed five. Brown’s order follows shelter-in-place edicts in many other states and localities, including California, New York, Illinois and New Jersey.
Businesses that must close include beauty salons, nail salons, spas, theaters and amusement parks. Offices must close to people who can do their jobs remotely.
Day cares can continue to operate but with restrictions. Restaurants can continue to offer delivery and to-go service, and grocery stores, and hospitals, among others, may remain open.
The order gives stores until midnight to comply; offices have until Wednesday.
Additionally, Brown classified playgrounds, basketball courts, skate parks and other outdoor recreation facilities as off limits.
People should only engage in activities outside their home, the governor said, if they can maintain a six-foot distance from others to avoid spread of the virus. Walking, running and hiking are fine, according to the announcement, but not parties or other celebrations.
The governor faced increasing pressure to act over the weekend as vacationers swarmed the Oregon coast in defiance of her Friday afternoon directive that travelers stay home.
The health care community urged more stringent action, warning that if people continued to circulate the virus would, too. And mayors, including Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler, said they would act in their own jurisdictions if the governor did not.
On Monday, Brown said she was “very frustrated” to see people traveling recreationally over the weekend.
“I asked and urged Oregonians to stay home,” she said. “On Friday night I frankly directed them to stay home. And now I am ordering them to stay home.”
As public pressure mounted from health professionals and politicians for Brown to issue more stringent rules to keep people at home, the state’s business community issued its own call for the governor to maintain key economic activity and to ensure the same rules apply statewide.
The governor said she waited to issue her order until she had a comprehensive solution that could be administered consistently throughout the state, from small towns to urban areas.
“I was working on a statewide policy that would protect all of Oregon and I wanted to do it collaboratively, thoughtfully and thoroughly,” Brown said.
The order didn’t come in time to prevent last week’s surge of recreational travel but it apparently gave time for Brown to line up support from the business community and from other Oregon politicians.
“A statewide ‘stay home, stay healthy’ order provides certainty across regional boundaries,” said Andrew Hoan, CEO of the Portland Business Alliance. “We support Governor Brown’s effort to create an effective response and statewide policy for all Oregonians.”
Wheeler endorsed the governor’s action.
“In the absence of a vaccine, the best defense we have right now is protecting the community from infection with social distancing,” Wheeler wrote. “The governor’s statewide Stay Home, Save Lives order strengthens and reinforces the seriousness of that need.”
Whether the restrictions are adequate remains an open question. Construction sites and manufacturing may continue to operate under the order, and while they allow for more distance than office work or many service jobs, those activities can involve some human interaction that could allow the virus to continue spreading.
Major manufacturers are already shutting down in other parts of the country. Michigan’s automakers closed down last week and Boeing ordered its Washington factories closed Monday.
The order didn’t directly address the state’s homeless population, which obviously have no homes to stay in. The governor’s office said it is looking to counties and local agencies to address those needs.
The governor said she doesn’t plan patrols or other steps to ensure people follow the directive, saying she prefers law enforcement be focused on other emergencies. However, suggested that could change if compliance with Monday’s order is poor.
“I am asking every single Oregonian to do their part. I’m asking businesses to also take personal responsibility here. If businesses do not comply they will be shut down,” Brown said.
While Oregonians are not on lockdown, Nik Blosser, the governor’s chief of staff, said they should confine themselves to activities close to home. The order doesn’t shut down hotels or other lodging, but Blosser said people should not be going on vacation.
“It basically says, you can’t go for purely recreational purposes traveling around,” he said. Blosser said people should only leave their homes if they need to get to work performing an essential service or if they need food, medicine or other basic products.
Dozens of workers privately have expressed concerns to The Oregonian/OregonLive over the past week about working conditions they consider unsafe due to the outbreak. Blosser said there’s no state mechanism to field such complaints now but the governor’s office is open to creating a tip line or something similar.
“That’s a good idea,” he said. “We’ll look into it.”