Tougher Oregon restrictions benefit Clark County restaurants

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May 5—Gov. Jay Inslee announced on Tuesday that all Washington counties will remain in their current phase of the state's COVID-19 economic recovery plan for another two weeks.

That means Clark County remains in Phase 3, and local restaurants, gyms and businesses will see no further restrictions for at least another two weeks.

Before Inslee's announcement, Clark County was primed to remain in Phase 3, anyway.

The county only needed to have fewer than five new COVID-19 hospitalizations per 100,000 population over seven days, or have fewer than 200 new COVID-19 cases per 100,000 population over 14 days.

Clark County would have barely snuck under the hospital metric with 4.6 new COVID-19 hospitalizations per 100,000 population over seven days, according to the state Department of Health.

The county has 250 new COVID-19 cases per 100,000 population over 14 days, according to Clark County Public Health, finishing well above that target.

That new-cases metric has risen from a low this year of 88.8 new COVID-19 cases per 100,000 population over 14 days on March 16.

Fewer restrictions

Given Clark County's status in Phase 3, it remains one of the least restricted counties in the Portland metro area, even though Clark County's COVID-19 case metrics are worse than Multnomah County's on a per population basis.

As of April 28, Multnomah County had 222 new COVID-19 cases per 100,000 population over 14 days, about 30 new cases below Clark County, which updated its metrics Tuesday.

The reason that Clark County is less restricted than Portland has less to do with a positive COVID-19 outlook, and more to do with the fact that Oregon Gov. Kate Brown has imposed stricter restrictions than Inslee, though on Tuesday she moved to relax them starting Friday, including allowing the resumption of indoor dining, though at lower levels than in Clark County.

Inslee said on Tuesday that he was giving counties the two-week reprieve from evaluation because of plateauing case counts.

Oregon is also in the midst of a COVID-19 surge that now appears to be on the downturn, but was the biggest percentage increase in COVID-19 cases of any state in the country.

Clark County Public Health Officer Dr. Alan Melnick said Clark County's case increase, which has seen COVID-19 activity levels nearly triple in less than two months, has to do with a variety of factors.

He believes there is some pandemic fatigue playing a role, with people less vigilant about safety precautions. He also said variants now make up roughly 90 percent of new cases across Washington.

Some of those variants, such as B.1.1.7, which originated in the United Kingdom, are more contagious than the original version of the novel coronavirus.

"Right now our numbers are going up," Melnick said. "You can see increased rates in the spring or summer. People shouldn't be complacent. We're not out of this yet."

Clark County's spike comes amid a national 26 percent decrease in COVID-19 cases over the last 14 days, according to a New York Times database. In that time span, 28 states have seen cases decrease by 15 percent or more.

While Clark County's case counts rise, business owners have two more weeks to hope the county can reverse course and continue to stay in Phase 3 for the rest of the month.

Surge in business

Many restaurants in Vancouver had a busier weekend than usual, and owners noticed that Portlanders were a factor in that added business, although it's hard to say with certainty how much of an effect it had.

Portland was subject to Oregon's "extreme risk" restrictions late last week, which banned all indoor dining, but was moved back to "high risk" category on Tuesday, which allows indoor dining with occupancy limited at 25 percent of capacity, or 50 people, whichever was smaller.

Rick Montgomery, general manager of Brian Carter Cellars tasting room at The Waterfront Vancouver, said Sunday was so busy it caused the tasting room to adapt.

For the first time, Montgomery began taking phone numbers of people waiting in line for the winery and texting them when their table was ready.

"On Sunday, we were busier than usual, but we're always busy," he said. "We greeted everyone and gave them the usual fantastic service. But I sensed there was a buzz in the air."

At Gray's at the Park, the restaurant attached to the Hilton Vancouver Washington, general manager Mike McLeod said some of the customers over the weekend were Portlanders coming north to dine-in.

"I venture that some of it is being pushed up from Portland," he said.

And at the Hilton Vancouver Washington hotel, he said that as soon as Multnomah County's restrictions went into place on Friday, the hotel booked some meetings that were supposed to be in Portland.

"We continue to get the same calls," he said.

Barlow's Public House at The Waterfront Vancouver had a 17 percent increase last weekend, likely because of Portland guests, said co-owner Brian Rummer. It's a welcome boost during a time when restaurants have lost a lot of money because of the pandemic restrictions.

"Sunday was really big for us," he said. "I think there was a good amount of Portland people. I think a lot of Portland people who want to check out the Waterfront and haven't been there yet are saying, 'Let's go check this out.' This prompted them."

One of the Portlanders who drove to Vancouver to escape Portland's restrictions and dine indoors over the weekend was reddit user Queasy-Experience-62, who told The Columbian in a message that his wedding was over the weekend, and the couple stayed at the McMenamins Edgefield Hotel in Troutdale, Ore.

On Sunday morning they were unable to get an outdoor seat at their wedding venue's restaurant, and they knew that Portland was going to be impossible, he wrote.

"We drove out to Vancouver instead and enjoyed a lovely breakfast at a cafe downtown," he wrote. "The waitress indicated that they were busy from Portlanders driving over to eat inside. We are both fully vaccinated and feel comfortable now eating indoors. Too bad our Governor can't make an exception for vaccinated people."

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