Counties on the Oregon coast have begun planning – and in some cases taking — small steps toward reopening vacation rentals, hotels and RV parks amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
On Friday, for instance, Coos County lifted its ban on short-term vacation rentals, though officials asked operators not to promote tourism or encourage visitors for now.
Gov. Kate Brown has talked about “Phase 1” of reopening Oregon businesses. Think of this as “Phase .25,” said Coos County Chair Melissa Cribbins.
“We see this as a baby step toward reopening,” she said.
Cribbins estimates the county is home to about 100 short-term rentals.
In neighboring Curry County, commissioners discussed lifting their ban on short-term lodging as early as Friday but then postponed the vote until next week after pushback from residents worried about public health.
Lincoln County commissioners and eight cities and towns in the county agreed last week to extend their ordinances restricting hotels and other short-term lodging establishments until the end of May, said board Chair Kaety Jacobson.
She said the county’s ban has exceptions for essential workers and others, such as people who live in hotels. She said the county also has made exceptions for people in need of emergency lodging.
After hordes of spring break visitors descended on the coast in March, many communities enacted ordinances that severely limited hotels, motels and other forms of lodging hoping to discourage visitors who, they thought, could spread the virus and overwhelm their hospitals.
The coastal bans in general did not shut down lodging but instead restricted their operation to certain situations, like essential workers, people staying more than 30 days and victims of domestic violence.
But now with the number of confirmed coronavirus cases in coastal communities remaining low, county leaders are tiptoeing their way toward kickstarting their battered economies.
Jason Brandt, president and CEO of the Oregon Restaurant & Lodging Association, said parts of the state with few known cases should be allowed to open “in a responsible way.”
“Based on the data and the cases I do think there is a path forward,” he said, “but we have to be careful to make sure people understand that this is not the time to be promoting leisure travel.”
It’s hard to know what practical effect reopening will have since many people are still staying home and many destinations remain closed.
“The beaches are closed,” Cribbins said. “The dunes are closed. The parks are closed and the restaurants are closed.”
“It’s a terrible time to go on vacation,” she said.
Curry County has had four confirmed COVID-19 cases; none required hospitalization in the county’s 16-bed medical center, local officials said.
In Coos County, all of the confirmed cases are tied to an outbreak at Shutter Creek Correctional Institution, a state prison where 19 inmates and two employees have tested positive for the virus.
Officials on the coast have sounded desperate when they talk about the need to reopen.
In an April 22 board meeting, Curry County Chair Chris Paasch