Last Friday, February 26th, Salem citizens were given back the opportunity to dine indoors once again. In Governor Brown’s newest announcement of county risk levels, Marion and Polk left the Covid-19 extreme risk category and moved down a level to high risk, making it a possibility to eat inside.
Restrictions are still in place to ensure that everyone who does choose to dine out is being as safe as possible. People who go out are expected to wear a mask, maintain social distancing, as well as follow sanitation and hygiene guidelines. In addition to these expectations, restaurants are required to limit their capacity to 25%, or 50 guests (whichever is less). However, their outside seating is increased to a maximum of 75 people.
Currently, there are five counties in Oregon categorized as extreme risk, and eleven are grouped as high risk. Marion and Polk are currently classified as “high risk.” High risk in respect to Covid-19 means that less than 200 new Covid cases out of 100,000 residents have been recorded over the past two weeks. With this information, Governor Brown made the call to drop our counties down a risk level because the percent of positive Covid tests amongst Marion and Polk county residents has been significantly decreasing since the last week of December, allowing high-risk counties to have a little more freedom.
At first glance, this may seem like fantastic news, but some of your favorite restaurants may be hesitant to reopen their doors. Because the state reevaluates county risk levels every two weeks, some restaurant owners are holding back on reopening because of the unknown variables. There could be a surge in cases leading to yet another closure, and owners don’t want to hire people back, order large quantities of ingredients, and prepare for larger crowds just to get shut down again. Some businesses with suitable outdoor seating that is keeping them afloat will choose to wait out the storm to see if there is calm that follows.
Another factor to consider pertaining to restaurants reopening is the possibility of new Covid-19 variants. There have been concerns circulating about unfamiliar variants making their way around the U.S., some already identified in Oregon. These uncharted variants are more contagious than known strands of Covid, and they are found to be less treatable by vaccines. If these variants continue to fight their way amongst our citizens when restaurants reopen, this will give the variants a more widespread opportunity to take hold of the vulnerable.
Marion and Polk counties, being in the high-risk category, have more freedoms to explore besides indoor dining. Indoor fitness and recreation centers are now open with 25% capacity or 50 people, indoor entertainment facilities such as museums can reopen (again with 25% capacity or 50 people), and long-term care facilities including adult foster homes can allow indoor visitation from family or friends. While participating in these interactions, everyone is expected to abide by Oregon’s Covid-19 mandates and guidelines. Just like restaurants, these activities have their own potential risks.
While Salem residents take back our lives and start experiencing the outside world again, we have to remember we are still amidst a pandemic as we forge into the uncharted territory ahead.