PENDLETON — Umatilla County can now move into Phase 2 of reopening, county commissioners announced this afternoon.

The news has the three-person commission beyond elated, Board Chairman John Shafer said.

According to the letter from Oregon Gov. Kate Brown Friday, the county can on Saturday begin lifting even more restrictions put in place in March to help slow the spread of COVID-19.

Among other things, that means more recreational opportunities, increased restaurant and bar activity, more businesses able to open more fully and larger indoor and outdoor gatherings.

Phase 2 is the last full step in reopening the state until there is a widely available treatment or a vaccine for COVID-19, Brown pointed out, adding that her office and Oregon Health Authority staff will evaluate guidance on an ongoing basis.

Brown cautioned that moving to Phase 2 comes with increased risk.

“With every restriction lifted we know transmission of the virus has the potential to increase,” Brown wrote to Shafer.

“You should be proud of the work done thus far by your local public health department to test, track, and isolate new cases of COVID-19. That work has made it possible for your county to move to the next phase.”

Shafer said he is indeed proud of Umatilla County’s public health and other departments for the hard work it took to reach this moment. And while Phase 2 comes with some continued restrictions for health and safety, county officials anticipate businesses that could have opened to a degree in Phase 1 but did not will now be ready to do so, he said.

“A lot of restaurants wanted to wait and see what the future may hold. Well, the future is here,” he said.

Shafer said he, along with Commissioners Bill Elfering and George Murdock, remain puzzled as to why Umatilla County has twice now been left dangling by a day or so in the state’s decisions about which counties move into what phase of economic recovery.

“We met all the metrics both times. We don’t know why that was, there is nothing there,” to hold the county back, Shafer said.

Nonetheless, Friday was a good day, he added.

“Right now we just wanted to get to Phase 2.”

Brown said Umatilla, like other counties, will need continued vigilance and effort to keep the coronavirus numbers as low as possible, including maintaining a culturally responsive and robust contact tracing system and have effective testing and isolation strategies in place.

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Sheila Hagar can be reached at

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.