Oregon’s governor announced Friday a host of get-tougher restrictions in an effort to stem a rising tide of COVID-19 cases.

It is critical all of Oregon moves from nine counties being in a two-week “pause” phase to a statewide “freeze” mode, Gov. Kate Brown said in a news conference Friday.

COVID-19 case numbers are rising at an alarming rate, state health officials said, and immediate further and stringent efforts are critical in limiting the rapid spread.

Brown said risk-reduction measures will go into effect Thursday and last through Dec. 2.

Those include limiting restaurants and bars to take-out only, and closing gyms, indoor and outdoor recreational facilities during that period.

Parks and playgrounds will stay open, Brown said, emphasizing the need for outdoor activities.

Grocery stores, pharmacies and retail businesses must limit numbers of shoppers to 75% of capacity and Brown encouraged Oregonians to use curbside pickup services.

Faith-based organizations are to reduce capacity to 25 people indoors and 50 people outdoors during the two-week period.

Other components of the freeze include:

  • Closing museums, indoor entertainment activities, indoor pools and sports courts.
  • Closing zoos, gardens, aquariums, outdoor entertainment activities and outdoor pools.
  • Closing venues that host or facilitate indoor or outdoor events.
  • Requiring all businesses to mandate work-from-home to the greatest extent possible and closing offices to the public.
  • Prohibiting indoor visiting in long-term care facilities.

The new “freeze” will not apply to or change current rules for personal services like barber shops, hair salons, chiropractors and non-medical massage therapy, homeless sheltering, youth programs, child care, K-12 schools and associated sports or higher education. They can continue operating under previous guidance issued by the Oregon Health Authority, Brown said.

Friday’s announcement came on the heels of an agreement between Brown, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee and California Gov. Gavin Newsom to issue travel advisories urging residents to avoid nonessential out-of-state travel. The governors also are urging people to self-quarantine for 14 days after arriving from another state or country.

Brown cautioned that some virus hotspot areas in Oregon could be put into a longer, four-week freeze, naming Multnomah County.

While Umatilla County was not mentioned in the news conference, county commission Chair John Shafer said that doesn’t preclude the governor from adding it to that list.

Umatilla County’s sporadic case count numbers are trending upward, and Shafer said one major reason is people are not cooperating with contact tracing efforts.

“They are not answering the phone, or if they do they are not answering questions. They are not saying where they were or who they were with, so we have to list it as a sporadic case,” he said.

“The higher the sporadic case counts the more restrictions your county gets.”

Shafer said he wishes he knew how to convince Umatilla County residents to stop the big parties and other social gatherings, adding that they are spreading the virus far more than inside restaurants and businesses.

“This is what it will take to slow our numbers,” he said. “If I were a betting man, I would bet we’ll be in this freeze longer than two weeks.”

Brown said she had been begging Oregonians to make every effort to decrease the incidence of COVID-19 in communities. This new set of restrictions is the most restrictive since the pandemic began in Oregon.

The Associated Press reported Friday, citing Oregon Health Authority data, that the percent of people testing positive for the virus was nearly 12% statewide Thursday, more than double what it was in the summer.

For the past two weeks, officials have expressed concerns about nearing hospital capacity in the state, the AP reported, noting the state reported 303 coronavirus patients in hospitals Friday — an increase of 81% since the end of October.

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Sheila Hagar can be reached at sheilahagar@wwub.com or 509-526-8322.

Sheila Hagar has written for the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin since 1998. Sheila covers health, social services and city government in Milton-Freewater, Athena and Weston in the Walla Walla Valley.