A county health care worker screens people for symptoms at a Ontario's Covid testing site in July 2020. Malheur County will drop from the Covid moderate risk category to lower risk Friday. (The Enterprise/Rachel Parsons)

ONTARIO – More people will be able to visit local restaurants and convene in larger groups outside beginning Friday in Malheur County.

Gov. Kate Brown announced Wednesday that Malheur County will move from the Covid moderate risk category to the lower risk echelon.

Brown urged Oregonians to remain vigilant.

“Now more than ever it is imperative that we all continue wearing masks, maintain physical distance, stay home when sick, and get the vaccine when its available to you,” said Brown.

Under the low risk Covid category, a maximum of 10 people – up from a maximum of eight people – can meet indoors in a social setting or an at-home gathering.

The switch to the lower risk classification was triggered, at least partly, because of the consistent declining rate of Covid infections in the county.

For the week of March 21 to April 3, the Malheur County Health Department recorded 15 Covid cases and an overall positivity rate of the virus at 2.9%.

That rate is a far cry from September when the county’s weekly positivity rate stood at 44.8% - the highest in the state at that time. The state positivity benchmark in September was 4.1%.

Outdoor social and at-home gatherings, previously limited to 10 people, can include 12 people under the low-risk mandate.

The big change for restaurants under the lower risk edict is the number of people allowed outdoors to eat or drink.

Inside the lower risk module, a maximum of 300 people are allowed outside – a jump from 150 people sanctioned under the moderate risk classification – and the closing times have been pushed from 11 p.m. to midnight under the lower risk status.

Not much changes for indoor recreation and fitness establishments under new designation. They are still limited to 50% capacity and indoor full-contact sports remain off limits. Indoor entertainment facilities, such as aquariums, museums and theaters, can stay open an hour longer – from 11 p.m. to 12 a.m. – under the lower risk category.

Churches and funeral homes will be able to expand maximum indoor capacity – from 50% to 75% - and allow up to 300 people outdoors.

Under moderate risk guidelines, the outdoor capacity for churches, funeral homes, mortuaries and cemeteries was limited to 250 people. Also under the lower risk ranking, limited office work is allowed.

Outdoor recreation and fitness facilities – such as outdoor gyms, school sports, pools and parks – will be able to jump from a maximum of 25% capacity – under moderate risk - to 50% capacity and full contact sports as part of the lower risk classification.

 News tip? Contact reporter Pat Caldwell at pat@malheurenterprise.com

 Previous coverage:

Different methods by Oregon and Idaho to fight Covid highlights the challenge of suppressing the virus

You did it Malheur County - data shows drop in Covid eased restrictions could come next week.

Malheur County Covid infection rate continues to climb

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