Josephine County asks court to validate skirting COVID-19 'freeze' restrictions

Last week, the Board of Josephine County Commissioners approved a resolution that would ask the local circuit court to evaluate 'good faith efforts' to reduce COVID-19 spread.

Posted: Nov 23, 2020 12:39 PM
Updated: Nov 23, 2020 3:06 PM

GRANTS PASS, Ore. — Josephine County is exploring methods of avoiding Governor Kate Brown's latest coronavirus restrictions without directly challenging her executive order in court, though at least one court will have a say in how the County goes forward.

The Board of County Commissioners drew up a petition to the Josephine County Circuit Court, asking it to validate the Board's power to pass a resolution. The resolution itself holds that "reasonable precautions taken by persons and entities to minimize the virus’s spread constitute good faith efforts regardless of whether such precautions are consistent with executive orders related to the Coronavirus."

The resolution also maintains that Josephine County is at low risk for hazardous outcomes from the coronavirus.

Commissioner Lily Morgan indicated at the County's weekly business meeting last Wednesday that she has argued to state officials against a one-size-fits-all approach for Oregon's response to COVID-19, but her complaints have fallen on deaf ears. Governor Brown's statewide freeze is what prompted the County's resolution.

"For the past 8 months, local businesses have spent an extraordinary amount of time and money to be able to continue conducting their lawful business with COVID safety protocols in place," Morgan said in a statement. "They have made good-faith efforts to be in compliance and need to be recognized for their efforts."

At the County's weekly business meeting last Wednesday, Morgan underlined that the County is not arguing against Governor Brown's ability to issue executive orders on the basis of coronavirus, and for good reason. A previous effort to directly challenge Brown's orders ended in defeat at the Oregon Supreme Court in June.

Instead, the County's resolution focuses on the state's primary methods for enforcement of COVID-19 restrictions, agencies like OSHA and the OLCC. The largest penalties from those agencies stem from flagrant and willful violations of safety measures intended to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

The County's petition to the court, arguing that existing precautions represent "good faith efforts," constitutes an attempt to shield businesses or individuals that observe COVID-19 safety measures but flout the latest mandate to shut down or further limit their operations, using the same language that state agencies employ.

"Josephine County’s contact tracing efforts show that outbursts of cases are not from going to the gym, church, or restaurants so the science does not support shutting down these businesses," Morgan said. "The resolution acknowledges the efforts made by our businesses to be in compliance with state regulations and provides defense from enforcement of the executive orders."

Whether or not the County Commissioners receive validation from the Circuit Court, it's somewhat unclear how effective the resolution would prove to be, or for how long. The resolution, as it stands, acts as something of a blank check — it hinges on Josephine County representing a "low risk" for coronavirus going forward, and promises evidence that "all persons and entities" in the county have made a good faith effort to reduce risk, whether individual entities have or not.

Though Josephine County has certainly seen much lower case rates than neighboring Jackson County, those rates have started to climb over the past several weeks. Public health officials reported 42 new cases of COVID-19 on Monday. A total of 192 cases are currently being monitored as active or infectious.

Moreover, Oregon includes Josephine County in the same hospital region as Jackson, as they are likely to share resources. The two counties are linked in respect to dwindling hospital capacity as more cases require hospitalization. As of Monday, the region had a total of seven ICU beds available for use, and 66 normal beds.

NewsWatch 12 will continue following this story for updates on the Josephine County Circuit Court's disposition.

Oregon Coronavirus Cases

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Reported Deaths: 1803
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