SALEM, Ore. — Republicans in the Oregon Senate are pressuring Governor Kate Brown to lift coronavirus restrictions on rural Oregon counties, exemplified in a statement issued by Senate Republican Leader Herman Baertschiger, R-Grants Pass, on Monday.
“I have been in daily conversations with the Governor advocating for her to lift economic and lifestyle restrictions in rural Oregon and those areas of the state that haven’t been as impacted by COVID-19," Sen. Baertschiger. "The rural districts my caucus and I represent should be able to return to a new normal and get back to work.”
In early March, Republicans signaled support for the sort of measures that Governor Brown had implemented to slow the spread of COVID-19, with Sen. Baertschiger saying that leaders "are and should be taking measures that have never been taken before."
Since then, and with the virus' spread demonstrably slowed by those measures, the pressure from businesses and workers struggling under the restrictions has been building.
In Sen. Baertschiger's seat of Josephine County, a new positive case of COVID-19 has not been detected in more than a week. In particularly rural areas like Lake and Harney counties, there has yet to be a confirmed case — though access to testing has also been limited.
Last week Governor Brown introduced her "framework" for loosening coronavirus measures, which largely touched on state benchmarks that needed to be reached before any such steps would be taken. Though Brown said that she would be taking input from local leaders and workers from impacted industries, the plan did not touch on a county-by-county rollback of restrictions.
Republican lawmakers have particularly taken umbrage with Brown's announcement of the Western States Pact, an agreement to work with leaders in California and Washington state to make decisions in consultation with one another. Especially in the counties along the Oregon and Washington border, cases have often straddled state lines.
"Let’s do this the Oregon way," said House Republican Leader Christine Drazan, R-Canby, in a statement last week. "We cannot give authority to other states, what works in Los Angeles will not work in Enterprise. As we see predictions of the worst recession since the Great Depression, it is essential that we prioritize the unique aspects of this state and our communities."
"My caucus and I are having a difficult time understanding why communities in Oregon that have not been impacted by COVID-19 can’t return to business sooner than others in the state," said Sen. Baertschiger. "Oregon should be addressing conditions on a local level before worrying about what other states are doing.”
In an interview with NewsWatch 12 on Monday, Baertschiger said that he would like to see restrictions lifted on most counties east of the Cascades, and possibly those in southern Oregon.
"I'm really proud of Oregonians because what they have done has really bent the curve on this virus," said Baertschiger. "And I think washing your hands, keeping your distance, if you're sick you stay home — all of those things all add up, and I think that's just how we're going to start living going forward. Does that mean we're going to walk around with masks? Probably not. But I think just being aware of how this disease is spread and doing things to mitigate that will go a long way."