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Gov. Kate Brown Holds Off on Shutting Down Bars and Restaurants During Oregon’s COVID-19 Outbreak

Washington, as well as several other states, has moved to close all bars and restaurants

Oregon Governor Kate Brown stands at a podium
Oregon Gov. Kate Brown
Photo by Anthony Pidgeon/Redferns

Update: In the afternoon of March 16, Gov. Kate Brown announced that she would sign an executive order shutting down restaurants for all service except takeout and delivery.

Gov. Kate Brown will not impose a curfew on Oregon bars and restaurants or force any restaurants to close, she announced in a press conference this morning. Brown said local officials across the state showed resistance to the possibility of a mandatory closure, saying many vulnerable populations rely on restaurants in rural communities.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s new recommendations currently suggest organizers cancel any in-person groups of more than 50 people for the next eight weeks; many Portland-area restaurants have a capacity over 50 people. Last week, Brown released a mandate canceling all events with more than 250 people; the mandate does not explicitly limit businesses with a capacity over 250. Meanwhile, in neighboring Washington, Gov. Jay Inslee has shut down all bars and restaurants for dine-in service until March 31. Brown mentioned the possibility of announcing a curfew or temporary closure mandate yesterday in a phone call with reporters. Outside of Washington, Maryland, Massachusetts, Illinois, Michigan, New York, Connecticut, New Jersey, Kentucky, Indiana, and Ohio have all shut down restaurants and bars in response to the global pandemic.

Last night, more than 60 restaurant and food and beverage business owners signed an open letter asking Brown to force all restaurants and bars to temporarily close and provide financial relief measures for restaurant workers and employers. The idea, beyond public health and safety, is to make it easier for restaurant owners to file insurance claims for loss of income — hopefully to help restaurants survive the dip in business while also keeping employees and the public safe through social distancing. Since then, more than 200 additional people have signed a petition in support of that open letter.

“What we need now most is Kate Brown to demand we close so our insurance and disaster relief can be considered,” says Beast and Expatriate co-owner Naomi Pomeroy, who collaborated on the open letter sent to Brown. “Without her advocating for us, many of our favorite establishments might not make it through.”

Pomeroy is far from the only person concerned with the lack of closures at Portland restaurants. Multnomah County Commissioner Sharon Meieran, who is also an emergency room doctor, told Willamette Week that she’s calling for restaurant and bar closures, as well. “I believe it is our obligation to be closing bars and restaurants across the state,” the commissioner told the alt-weekly. “It seems not doing this is putting politics above public health, and even the CDC—they have not been known for their proactivity—is going above what we are doing in Oregon.”

“She is going to kill people with her inaction,” bar owner Eric Bowler says in response to Brown’s decision.

Brown has recommended that younger diners avoid restaurant spaces and continue to practice social distancing, to prevent the accidental spread to more at-risk groups.

Alex Frane contributed to the reporting for this piece.

Updated March 16, 2020, 2:08 p.m.
This story has been updated to include comments from Meieran and Pomeroy.

Amid coronavirus, Oregon will not yet impose curfew on restaurants and bars, Gov. Kate Brown declares [O]
Open Letter Asks Gov. Kate Brown to Shut Down Oregon’s Restaurants and Bars Amid COVID-19 Outbreak [EPDX]
Oregon Gov. Kate Brown weighs curfew on restaurants and bars; decision expected Monday [O]
Multnomah County Commissioner Sharon Meieran, an Emergency Room Doctor, Calls For Shutting Down Restaurants, Bars [WWeek]
How Coronavirus Is Impacting the Portland Restaurant World [EPDX]

Disclosure: Pomeroy has written an Eater Voices piece for Eater’s national site.

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