Curry County commissioners listened intently Monday as several restaurant owners begged for their help in re-opening. When Dr. Henry Ealy made his case for opening Oregon back up, the commissioners were ready to act.
Commissioners said they intend to sign onto a letter that will be sent to Gov. Kate Brown that encourages the state to allow small businesses to open up. The key element, most in attendance Monday agreed, was that COVID is not spread at restaurants and small businesses.
Ealy, a doctor of neuropathic medicine, founded the COVID Research Center in 2020. He told commissioners while COVID has been bad, the truth is closing small businesses does not help stop the spread.
In Oregon, Ealy said, more than 56 percent of all fatalities have been in senior assisted living facilities and more than 90 percent of those who died had underlying conditions. The stats, especially in Curry County, do not justify the harsh measures being taken, he said.
For example, across Oregon 1.3 percent of people who have tested positive for COVID have died. In Curry County, with three deaths, 1.1 percent of those who tested positive have died. For another look, 0.033 percent of all Oregonians have died while 0.013 percent of Curry County residents have died.
“Curry County has had a grand total of three deaths over 11 months,” Ealy said. “In my professional opinion, that is not an emergency. These are not the numbers and statistics that support and emergency situation.”
Ealy said with the vast majority of fatalities occurring in the elderly, the state would be better off opening up the economy and taking massive steps to protect the elderly. Nationally, 99.625 percent of people under the age of 65 with COVID have recovered. Over 65, the percentage is 90.62.
Ealy also questioned whether COVID has had the impact many believe. He explained that in 2020, the federal government reported 2.9 million people died. That includes more than 350,000 people linked to COVID.
In 2019, the government reported 2.85 million people died with 2.839 million in 2018. The reality, he explained, is many of those who died with cases linked to COVID were likely to have died in 2020 anyway.
Jay Trost, who owns the Fat Irish Pub, told commissioners 2020 was hard to fathom for restaurant owners.
“I appreciate the courage it takes to even consider this subject. This subject is controversial on so many levels,” Trost said. “It’s been such a long year. On March 12, Oregon has its first COVID death. On March 16, it was announced we were shutting down the next business day. What did that mean for us? It meant the night of March 16 we had to let everyone go. That was the most difficult day in my career.
“We started to feel our way. But we were on board. It was two weeks to flatten the curve. By April, we were supposed to be back in business. That’s what we told our staff. When April came, it’s extended another 30 days. You have the sense of helplessness and there’s nothing we could do. May 15, we’re given the framework. Curry County is in Phase 2. We’re excited, we’re ready to move on. Curry County is in Phase 2 from May until just before Thanksgiving.
“That’s a significant amount of time to extrapolate a significant amount of data with restaurants open. OHA tracks workplace outbreaks. This should be staggering if we are an industry that has to be closed that employs 9 percent of Oregonians. There were 5,351 counted in workplace outbreaks. Of those, 27 came from restaurants. It proved we were doing all the work we needed to be doing to keep each other and safe and employed.”
Trost said his restaurant and virtually all restaurants were going above and beyond to clean and sanitize and keep guests and employees safe. He said over the Fourth of July, the governor sent out state workers to audit restaurants. Of 800 inspected, nine had violations.
“We don’t want stimulus money, we want to work,” he said. “We want our people to work.”
George Rhodes, who owns his own restaurant, said the government lockdowns have been almost impossible to keep up with.
“I think it’s best for the community to consider the options, especially since the governor has made some threats recently against counties that go against her rules,” he said. “But I’ve given up my freedoms enough. I don’t need who can’t get the unemployment department to send unemployment checks to my employees.
“The first shutdown, we had 26 employees. When we opened back up, we opened with 12 because we could only seat 25 percent of our seating capacity. Last time we closed down, we only had eight come back. I may be running my restaurant with just myself and my wife if we ever open up. This is critical.”
After hearing the reports, commissioners agreed to vote Wednesday on joining with Jackson, Douglas and Yamhill counties in urging the state to change its rules.
“We’re going to stand with all of our restaurants,” Chair Court Boice said.