Gov. Kate Brown

Today Oregon Gov. Kate Brown is expected to announce a return to Phase 1 for Umatilla County and an expanded mask order.

Umatilla County and two others are being sent back to Phase 1 of the state’s pandemic four-part reopening plan, county Commissioner John Shafer said this morning.

COVID-19 numbers are moving in the wrong direction, sparking the step back. The change is expected to take effect Friday, Shafer said.

Details are anticipated to be announced by Oregon Gov. Kate Brown at an 11 a.m. news conference.

Shafer, chairman of the Umatilla County Board of Commissioners, said he was contacted by Brown around 5 p.m. Tuesday evening about the plan.

The governor is also set to expand the state’s July 15 mandatory mask order for indoor spaces and outdoors when physical distancing is not possible to include everyone from age 5 and older, Shafer said.

Umatilla County health officials reported the death of a 77 year-old man in Hermiston on Tuesday, the county’s 11th fatality from COVID-19. There are 281 people with active cases of the disease in Umatilla County, many of those at Hermiston-area work sites.

Under Brown’s executive order, Phase 1 places limits on personal care businesses and facilities, such as hair salons and gyms.

Restaurants and bars must close by 10 p.m.

Indoor social get-togethers — such as dinner and birthday parties, book clubs, etc. — are capped at 10 people with physical distancing.

Cultural, civic, and faith gatherings are limited to 25 people with physical distancing for indoors or outdoors.

Investigations by county contact tracers continue to show that people going to their jobs while sick is the leading cause of Umatilla County’s new cases of COVID-19, including infected household members, Shafer said.

Morrow and Malheur counties are also being ordered back to Phase 1, he said, noting the three counties all share a border with another state.

Following the mask requirement will help slow the coronavirus, he said, adding he was initially unconvinced masks would be effective but has now become a convert.

Brown listened to and understood Shafer’s concerns for his constituents, but did not leave any wiggle room about returning the county to Phase 1, the commissioner said.

“We haven’t talked about how long this could last, but until we get the numbers under control …”

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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.