Image for Relaxed Restrictions for Eateries, Vaccinations for Health Workers

New Oregon COVID-19 restrictions go into effect on Thursday as the Oregon Health Authority (OHA) is preparing to vaccinate 30,000 health care workers by the end of the year.

The two-week “freeze” ordered by Governor Brown to stem the surge of new coronavirus infections ends Wednesday and will be replaced by restrictions that vary in severity based on whether a county falls in the low, moderate, high or extreme risk category. 

Of Oregon’s 36 counties, 21 are considered at extreme risk, including all three counties in the Portland metropolitan area. Factors that determine risk levels include test positivity rates and total number of infections. Risk categories for counties will be evaluated and possibly changed every two weeks, according to OHA.

While restaurants and bars were ordered closed for the last two weeks, they will be able to re-open for indoor and outdoor dining depending on the risk level of where they are located. In counties considered at extreme risk, restaurants and bars will only be allowed to serve takeout and dine outdoors. In Tillamook County, which is considered low risk, restaurants and bars can offer in-person service at 50 percent capacity, but must close by midnight.

Gyms and fitness centers face similar varying restrictions. They are prohibited from offering indoor workouts or personal training in extreme-risk counties, but can operate at 50 percent capacity in lower and moderate risk counties and 25 percent capacity in high-risk counties.

Shopping malls will be allowed to operate at 50 percent capacity in extreme and high-risk counties and 75 percent in low and moderate-risk counties, with all malls encouraged to offer curbside pickup. Office workers are urged to continue to work remotely. Personal service businesses may operate subject to public health and safety measures in place.

Churches, mortuaries and cemeteries will be limited to 25 percent capacity in extreme and high-risk counties, 50 percent in moderate-risk counties and 75 percent in low-risk counties. Visitation at long-term care facilities will be allowed in all counties, though limited in extreme-risk counties to outdoor visits.

A major concern will be how to convince a majority of Oregonians to be vaccinated when supplies become more available throughout 2021.

At-home indoors gatherings are limited to a maximum of six people from only two households in extreme and high-risk counties. That limitation is raised to eight people in moderate-risk counties and 10 people from a maximum of four households in low-risk counties. Outdoor gatherings at home are capped at six people in extreme-risk counties, eight in high-risk counties, 10 in moderate-risk counties and 12 in low-risk counties.

OHA Director Patrick Allen anticipates vaccinating up to 30,000 health care workers against COVID-19 by the end of the year, assuming vaccines are approved by the Food and Drug Administration for emergency use. Two vaccines that underwent extensive clinical trials and showed positive results have been submitted to the FDA for approval. The vaccine produced by Pfizer could be okayed in the next week, with the Moderna vaccine candidate 10 days later. Even more candidates, which are still in clinical trials, could become available next year.

While the makers of both vaccines before the FDA issued press statements indicating they were more than 90 percent effective and caused no serious side effects, there could be logistical issues that slow or complicate their distribution. Pfizer’s vaccine requires storage at -70 degrees Celsius, much colder than most vaccines require and that many chilling units can achieve. The Moderna vaccine only requires -20 degrees Celsius, a standard most medical clinics can meet.

OHA is in charge of vaccine distribution. Its plan lays out the priorities and sequence for who can receive the vaccines. Allen said his agency is working with hospitals, long-term care facilities, county health departments, tribes and others to ensure limited doses of the vaccine in the first part of next year go to those most at risk.

A major concern will be how to convince a majority of Oregonians to be vaccinated when supplies become more available throughout 2021. Allen pointed to FDA’s open and transparent review of vaccine clinical trial data, which will allow state experts to monitor the approval process. Allen said Oregon will coordinate with Washington, California and Nevada to “provide a measure of assurance to the public about the safety and efficacy of the vaccine.”