SALEM, Ore. — Governor Kate Brown on Tuesday issued an executive order solidifying her previous announcement of a statewide coronavirus-prompted "freeze," and urging people to voluntarily respect the restrictions.
"I know Oregonians have made tremendous sacrifices throughout this pandemic and that these new, temporary restrictions may seem daunting," said Governor Brown. "But, we are at a breaking point. If we don't take further action, we risk continued alarming spikes in infections and hospitalizations, and we risk the lives of our neighbors and loved ones."
Brown underlined that the freeze restrictions are "enforceable by law" on both individuals and businesses, but urged people to voluntarily follow them in order to curb the spread of coronavirus.
"I expect local law enforcement to continue to use an education first approach, but Oregonians need to understand that these rules are enforceable under law," Brown said. "A large majority of Oregonians continue to do the right thing to protect themselves, their loved ones, and their neighbors. However, when Oregonians don’t take COVID-19 seriously, and don’t take steps to reduce the spread of the disease, they put all of us at risk. We need all Oregonians to use common sense, make smart choices, and take seriously their individual responsibilities during a public health emergency."
Even during the height of Oregon's "Stay Home, Save Lives" order, local law enforcement agencies largely signaled their unwillingness to enforce COVID-19 restrictions. Instead, most penalties came from state agencies like the OLCC and OSHA. It remains to be seen whether the freeze will see a similar dynamic.
A statement from Brown's office said that Oregon State Police would be "working with local law enforcement" to enforce the new order, "in the same way local law enforcement officers respond to noise complaints for loud parties, for example, and issue citations."
If a violation is cited criminally, under Oregon statutes concerning emergencies, it is considered a class C misdemeanor — punishable by up to 30 days in jail, a fine of up to $1,250, or both. A prosecutor can opt to reduce the citation down to a class A violation, which has a lower fine. If a violation is pursued by the Oregon Health Authority it is a civil penalty, and the statutory maximum is $500 a day per violation.
In a joint letter issued by the Oregon State Sheriff's Association, the Oregon Association of Chiefs of Police, and Oregon State Police, law enforcement leaders urged Oregonians to comply with the executive order:
"Oregonians have a strong tradition of unifying to protect the most vulnerable members of our communities. As your fellow community members, please join us in adhering to the Governor’s Executive Order during the two-week Coronavirus freeze. As your Oregon Law Enforcement professionals, our primary objective throughout the Coronavirus pandemic has been to take an education first approach and to seek voluntary compliance with each Executive Order. We recognize the inconvenience the pandemic and subsequent restrictions have caused all of us. We also know that the risk to our most vulnerable populations is extremely high at this time and we urge everyone to follow these restrictions in order to protect them. After all, we are all in this together."
The freeze earned at least two letters of opposition on Tuesday. The first, a strident letter from Senate Republicans, railed against "government overreach in the name of COVID-19" that is "destroying Oregon."
"Since you welcome leaving thousands more of suffering Oregonians unemployed, Governor, you must lead by example and go without pay for the entire period that Multnomah County is to be shut down based on your arbitrary decisions," Senate Republicans wrote. "The funds that would normally go to your paycheck should be donated to families in need."
A second letter — somewhat more measured in tone — from state representatives and local officials led by Rep. Bill Post, still hit on many of the same points.
"Data shows us that COVID has been spreading at private social gatherings, and we call on our fellow citizens to be careful and social distance when gathering over the holidays, but we cannot and will not support any attempt by any police agency to violate the sacred space of any Oregonian’s home," Post's letter said. "We urge you to stop this mandate that will hinder the working people, families and their loved ones, the well-being of Oregonians, and the state of our economy and communities."
While not showing any indication that she would back down on the freeze, Governor Brown did announce on Tuesday that she would free up $55 million in financial assistance to support businesses impacted by the restrictions — allocating them to counties to distribute out.
Each county is promised a base amount of $500,000, plus a per-capita share of the remaining funds. Counties will be charged with deciding how the funds are handed out.