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Are COVID Restrictions Enforceable? An Explainer for Faith and Food 

Email from Gov. Kate Brown's director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, clarifying a legal change to the state's guidance for faith institutions

Rulings in the U.S. Supreme Court are having an effect on how faith institutions can gather here in Oregon. Late in the afternoon on Dec. 18, faith leaders in the state received an email from Gov. Kate Brown's director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, clarifying a legal change to the state's guidance for faith institutions.

  • Darris Hurst

"A series of recent court decisions arising in other states have appeared to modify the legal analysis that some courts may apply to certain public health restrictions that are specific to faith institutions," wrote Sophorn Cheang, DEI director for Gov. Kate Brown. "In light of those decisions, the State has opted to modify the guidance for faith institutions so that, as a legal matter, the capacity limits for faith institutions are public health recommendations only, and not enforceable. Other requirements (e.g. masks and physical distancing as outlined in the guidance) remain mandatory."

On Dec. 15, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of faith centers in Colorado and New Jersey, which opposed capacity limits during services.

Despite the change in Oregon, Cheang asked faith leaders to "continue to comply with the recommendations regarding capacity limits," which, for the Faith Institutions, Funeral homes, Mortuaries, and Cemeteries" business sector stands at maximum 25% occupancy or 100 people total, whichever is smaller.

Enforcement for food service

Meanwhile, restaurants and bars in counties in the "extreme" risk level continue to be restricted to serving customers outdoors or via takeout and delivery. A number of restaurants in Central Oregon are defying those orders, electing to serve indoors to help keep their businesses afloat. Among them are Kevista Coffee in Bend and Mazatlan in Redmond, as reported by Central Oregon Daily News.

In response to the Source's inquiry about the enforcement mechanisms in place for food service establishments that defy COVID restrictions, Deschutes County's Environmental Health Supervisor Eric Mone wrote the following response:

"It's an incredibly hard time for restaurants, coffee shops, breweries and all foodservice operations really. There are no easy answers for anybody. Almost all of the foodservice operations we license are doing a great job of keeping the public safe, promoting frequent handwashing, wearing face coverings, cleaning as necessary, and maintaining proper social distancing.

"Deschutes County Environmental Health's current direction when we receive complaints about a restaurant allowing indoor dining, is to visit them and see what is happening. If they are allowing indoor dining we let them know that, while our county is in this extreme risk category, based on COVID case counts, indoor dining isn't supposed to be happening. These requirements for businesses and the risk level metrics are set forth by the Governor's Executive Order and Oregon Health Authority guidance documents.

"If the indoor dining continues, we have been issuing a warning from the OHA [Oregon Health Authority] that references potential civil penalties, if the indoor dining continues. At that point, we turn the case over to Oregon OSHA [Occupational Safety and Health] for potential citation or enforcement action. And also OLCC [Oregon Liquor Control Commission] if alcohol is served.

"After speaking with our Deschutes County Health Services director, I can say we are continuing to explore other options to try to gain compliance for businesses that are openly allowing indoor dining. Suspending or revoking their foodservice license or asking local law enforcement for help could both be options in the future. At this time, however, those actions are not being taken."

About The Author

Nicole Vulcan

Nicole Vulcan has been editor of the Source since 2016. (Blame her for everything since then.) Favorite car: A Trek commuter bike. Favorite cat: An adopted dog who looks like a Jedi master. Favorite things, besides responding to your comments: Downton Abbey re-runs, Aretha Franklin albums, and pink wine.
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