On May 7, 2020, Oregon Governor Kate Brown outlined a three-phase approach to reopening Oregon's businesses beginning May 15, 2020. The phased approach was designed to gradually lift the "Stay Home, Save Lives" Executive Order issued by Governor Brown on March 23, 2020.

Under the three-phase approach, individual counties were permitted to enter Phase 1 once the county reached certain benchmarks for declining COVID-19 prevalence and hospitalization rates, and met minimum testing and contact tracing requirements. Once a county entered Phase 1, certain businesses, including restaurants, gyms, and personal service salons, were allowed to reopen if they met specific operational requirements relating to physical distancing, health and safety, and cleaning and sanitation.

Counties are required to remain in Phase 1 for a minimum of 21 days. If the county does not experience an unacceptable increase in prevalence and hospitalization rates during that 21-day period, the county may apply to enter Phase 2, which allows additional businesses to reopen and other restrictions to be lifted. 

Businesses that were allowed to remain open without entering Phase 1 were required to abide by the requirements outlined in the March 23 Executive Order as well as the statewide baseline requirements that took effect on May 15, 2020. This includes the obligation to designate an employee to enforce social distancing policies and protocols.

Where Are We Now? 

On June 17, 2020, Governor Brown announced that Multnomah County has been approved to enter Phase 1 on June 19, 2020. Governor Brown's announcement followed a week of uncertainty that was prompted by her June 12, 2020, announcement that she was "pausing" the reopening process for at least one week. As of that date, 29 of Oregon's 36 counties were in Phase 2; six were in Phase 1 and one – Multnomah County – had not yet moved into any phase.

Governor Brown's decision to "pause" the reopening process meant that counties could not progress to the next reopening phase. In other words, counties that were currently in Phase 1 would remain so, and counties that had applied to move to the next phase had their applications placed on hold.

With the Governor's June 17, 2020, announcement, Multnomah County now joins Washington County and Clackamas County in Phase 1. The Governor also announced that, going forward, the tri-county area will be treated as a single unit for future reopening decisions. While this decision reflects the reality of the interrelatedness of the tri-county area, it also means that Clackamas and Washington Counties cannot progress to Phase 2 for at least 21 days after June 19, 2020.

The Governor also announced a new policy that will require individuals to wear masks in all indoor public spaces, including grocery stores and other businesses. Individuals with medical conditions that make it unsafe to wear masks and children under age 13 are exempt from the policy.

The face covering requirement takes effect on June 24 and applies to the following counties: Multnomah, Washington, Clackamas, Marion, Polk, Hood River and Lincoln. This requirement is a shift from the current guidance, which has allowed businesses to encourage, but not require, customers to wear masks. Businesses have the right to refuse entry to anyone not wearing a face covering. The Oregon Health Authority is expected to release guidance about this new policy in the coming days.

Finally, the Governor announced that Marion, Polk and Hood River Counties have been approved to enter Phase 2 on June 19, 2020. As with the tri-county area, Marion and Polk County will be treated as a single unit for future reopening decisions.

Union County also announced that it is voluntarily returning to Phase 1 after more than 200 residents tested positive following an outbreak at a local church.

What Does This Mean for You?

First and foremost, know what phase your county is in and whether your business is allowed to reopen.

Second, as you reopen your business, closely monitor the reopening plan to ensure compliance with the industry-specific guidelines published by the state.

Third, know whether your business is covered by the Governor's mandatory face-covering policy.

Finally, regardless of which phase your county is in, there are steps you can take to help decrease the prevalence of COVID-19 in your workplace and in our communities which, in turn, will help expedite the process of reopening all of Oregon's businesses.

  • Maintain six feet of distance between employees, customers, and clients whenever possible:
    • Configure tables and workstations to maintain six feet of distance;
    • Mark floor at six-foot intervals and create one-way aisles;
    • Install physical barriers when feasible; and
    • Stagger shift and break times to minimize contact in communal areas.
  • Wear facial coverings:
    • Require employees to wear facial coverings unless doing so would create a health or safety issue; and
    • Require clients and customers to wear facial coverings while on the premises.
  • Conduct pre-shift or pre-appointment health checks to determine whether the individual has been diagnosed with or experienced COVID-19 symptoms or has been in close contact with someone who has been diagnosed with or experienced COVID-19 symptoms during the previous 14 days. 
  • Install handwashing stations and hand sanitizer dispensers in the workspace, particularly in communal areas.
  • Adopt flexible attendance and leave policies that encourage sick employees to stay home.
  • Maintain employee and customer logs to enable effective contact tracing.
  • Enforce rules relating to maximum occupancy and gathering restrictions.
  • Establish a frequent schedule for cleaning and sanitizing your workplace, particularly on common-touch surfaces.
  • Remove non-essential items from breakrooms or waiting areas including coffee pots, water dispensers, newspapers, and magazines.
  • Keep doors and windows open as much as possible, including all internal doors.
  • Educate employees, customers, and clients regarding the symptoms of COVID-19 and the steps they can take to help minimize the spread of the virus.

Moving Forward: Stay Safe, Stay Open

Governor Brown's decision is welcome news for Multnomah County businesses. However, if we have learned anything during the past week it is that the COVID-19 landscape in Oregon is constantly changing.

Governor Brown has acknowledged that she expects to see an increase in COVID-19 cases as businesses continue to reopen. However, she has also clearly signaled that she will freeze the reopening process if the state experiences a significant increase in hospitalization rates or deaths, or if the state's healthcare system as a whole can no longer manage the influx of cases.

Many recent COVID-19 cases have been tied to large workplace outbreaks. Given this, many employers are closely examining workplace safety because they are finding themselves uniquely positioned to take steps that may slow the spread of COVID-19 in our communities.

Since the date of publication, there may be new or additional information not referenced in this advisory. If you have questions about what the law requires or permits, consult with your legal counsel for guidance.

DWT will continue to provide up-to-date insights and virtual events regarding COVID-19 concerns. Our most recent insights, as well as information about recorded and upcoming virtual events, are available at www.dwt.com/COVID-19.