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What you need to know about spring break travel and COVID-19 in Oregon

OregonLive.com logo OregonLive.com 5/18/2021 Jamie Hale, oregonlive.com
a person standing on a bridge over a body of water: People watch the sunset over the Columbia River from outdoor seating area at Buoy Brewing Co. in Astoria, while the indoor section of the restaurant remains closed during the pandemic. © Jamie Hale/The Oregonian/Jamie Hale/The Oregonian People watch the sunset over the Columbia River from outdoor seating area at Buoy Brewing Co. in Astoria, while the indoor section of the restaurant remains closed during the pandemic.

Spring break is almost here, and with it scores of cooped-up Oregonians who are itching to get out on vacation.

Oregon schools will be on spring break from March 22 to 26, and while many families may have dreams of sunnier locales, the Oregon Health Authority still recommends that Oregonians stay in their regions and not travel to other states or countries, to prevent further spread of COVID-19.

Those recommendations might result in an influx of travelers in local tourist towns and popular outdoor recreation areas in Oregon, some of which saw a boom in popularity last summer.

What those travelers are actually able to do, however, will be dictated by state officials, who assign each Oregon county a risk level based on the current spread of COVID-19. Those risk levels determine things like indoor dining and capacity in museums and other attractions. That’s a big change from last year, when the coronavirus pandemic effectively canceled spring break. While vacations are back on for 2021, the invisible threat remains.

Here’s what you need to know about spring break in Oregon this year.

WHAT’S THE RISK OF COVID-19 SPREAD IN OREGON?

State officials revise the risk assessments for each Oregon county every two weeks, and most recently updated that information on March 9, with new risk levels that will be in effect March 12-26.

Most counties currently sit at “lower” or “moderate” risk, though nine counties are at “high” risk, while two face “extreme” risk. You can see a full county-by-county list of risk levels at coronavirus.oregon.gov.

The good news for Oregon travelers is that the biggest tourism towns lie in counties with less risk of spread, meaning more businesses will be open to more people. That includes counties on the northern stretch of the Oregon coast and the Columbia River Gorge, as well as those around the tourist towns of Bend and Joseph.

Trouble areas remain in southwest Oregon and large swaths of the Willamette Valley around Salem, which remain at a higher risk.

Travelers who plan on being on the road after March 26 should be ready for a potential change in risk levels, which could affect what’s allowed to be open in a given county. That information will be announced Tuesday, March 23.

There’s no vacation from the safe practices we’ve gotten used to, including wearing face masks in all public indoor spaces as well as outdoor spaces where it’s not possible to maintain social distance. The Oregon Health Authority recommends that anyone arriving in Oregon from another state quarantine for 14 days – a period that can be cut to 10 days with no symptoms or 7 days with a negative COVID-19 test. Oregonians are asked to stay close to home and avoid non-essential travel to other states.

a person standing in front of a store: A group of masked tourists watches taffy being made at Bruce's Candy Kitchen in Cannon Beach on the Oregon coast, as the town reopens amid the coronavirus pandemic on May 28, 2020, a particularly warm spring day. © Jamie Hale/The Oregonian/Jamie Hale/The Oregonian A group of masked tourists watches taffy being made at Bruce's Candy Kitchen in Cannon Beach on the Oregon coast, as the town reopens amid the coronavirus pandemic on May 28, 2020, a particularly warm spring day.

WILL RESTAURANTS BE OPEN FOR INDOOR DINING?

Restaurants are allowed to seat people indoors in counties that are at “high” risk or lower at various capacities.

Restaurants in “high” risk counties can operate indoor dining at 25% capacity, while those in both “moderate” and “lower” risk categories can operate at 50% capacity. That might translate to shorter wait times for indoor tables at restaurants in places like Cannon Beach and Hood River.

a group of people walking on a beach: Surfers and beachgoers walk along Short Sand Beach at Oswald West State Park. Some state park sites on the north Oregon coast reopened to the public Friday, June 5, more than two months after closing due to the coronavirus pandemic. © Jamie Hale/The Oregonian/Jamie Hale/The Oregonian Surfers and beachgoers walk along Short Sand Beach at Oswald West State Park. Some state park sites on the north Oregon coast reopened to the public Friday, June 5, more than two months after closing due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Outdoor dining is also an option at many restaurants, some of which have expanded their outdoor seating during the pandemic. Indoor tables tend to be more popular when available, especially during cold or rainy days, so those willing to brave the elements could find it easier to snag a seat.


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WHAT ABOUT MUSEUMS, AQUARIUMS AND OTHER ATTRACTIONS?

Museums and other indoor attractions are allowed to operate under any risk level, but like restaurants, the number of people allowed inside varies. At “high” risk, indoor attractions can operate at 25% capacity, while those in “moderate” or “lower” risk counties can open to 50% capacity.

Those in “extreme” risk counties are only allowed to have six customers inside at a time and may not see a benefit in opening at all.

In fact, whether or not a given attraction is open depends entirely on the owners, who may decide to play it safe and remain closed this spring. Be sure to check before you make plans to go somewhere, and stay up-to-date by looking at their social media channels.

Also bear in mind that indoor attractions will be enforcing face masks and social distancing between households, among other public health precautions. Check the rules of the attraction you plan on visiting and show up prepared.

READ MORE: What to expect at Oregon attractions during spring break 2021

WHAT’S CHANGED FOR HOTELS?

Hotels, resorts and lodges in Oregon are open, but the experience of staying in one will be a lot different than in the past. Businesses have been making a lot of changes in response to COVID-19, and the Oregon Restaurant and Lodging Association has helpfully created its Committed to Safety designation that indicates a business is in compliance with all public health regulations.

The most obvious change is the face mask requirement, which shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone who has been out in the world over the last year. Face masks must be worn in all public indoor areas of a hotel, and some may require them in all outdoor spaces as well. One trend in the lodging industry is contactless check-ins, removing in-person interactions in the lobby.

Pools, fitness centers and other amenities are allowed to be open, though hotels may opt to keep them closed or at least implement new restrictions, like a limit on the number of people allowed in at one time. Make sure to check with the hotel before packing your bathing suit.

You can also expect extra cleaning protocols for your room as well as shared spaces throughout the building. Hotels are now going the extra mile to clean and disinfect rooms in between visitors, so make sure you tip the housekeeping staff for all their extra work.

WILL PARKS AND CAMPGROUNDS BE OPEN?

Virtually all outdoor recreation areas that closed at the start of the pandemic have since reopened, though some may be closed this spring due to seasonal closures or maintenance. Popular outdoor destinations may be extremely busy this spring (as they were last year) so be prepared for crowds, and don’t park illegally if a park or trailhead is full.

Public land agencies in Oregon are asking people to wear face masks in all indoor areas, including restrooms, as well as any outdoor areas where it’s not possible to stay at least six feet from other people, like crowded viewpoints and hiking trails.

Campgrounds are also back open this spring and promise to remain as busy as ever – even the more remote spots. One big change this year is a new one-day “resting period” between visitors at all cabins and yurts in Oregon state parks. That could take those facilities out of commission for several days a week, making them even more competitive to book.

WHAT EXTRA SUPPLIES DO I NEED TO BRING?

With all the changing restrictions and closures, you might want to spend a little more time than usual making extra preparations, just in case.

Face masks, now a staple of day-to-day life, are necessary to have on hand, as they’re required in all public indoor locations and some outdoor areas that are more crowded. Restaurants that allow indoor dining typically require patrons to wear masks as they move through the restaurant, and face masks are usually necessary when walking through small towns, where there’s no room to separate from others.

When packing up your car, it’s wise to bring along some toilet supplies. Most rest areas in Oregon are open, but in the event that one is closed (or in case of an emergency) it’s good to have a backup toilet plan. That might mean an emergency car toilet or toilet paper and a trowel. Just make sure you use proper environmental etiquette when relieving yourself outdoors.

Carrying toilet paper in your car is always a good idea, especially in areas where restrooms or portable toilets aren’t serviced very often. You should also pack hand sanitizer or hand soap, as well as extra water, both for cleaning and for drinking.

HOW ELSE SHOULD I BE PREPARED?

The best way you can prepare for spring break this year is to remain flexible in your plans. Don’t count on your favorite place being open, your beloved park being empty or that one restaurant having a table available.

With more local tourists descending on places operating at limited capacities, you can expect much more competition for the most popular activities.

Make a Plan B, C or even D, in case your first choice is closed or too busy. That might mean skipping out on your traditional spring break activities, but it also means an opportunity to try something new. This spring break is all about staying safe and flexible.

And remember to be patient and kind with your fellow travelers and the folks working in local businesses. Oregon may be opening up a little more this spring, but keep in mind that the COVID-19 pandemic is ongoing – there’s no need to be a jerk as you enjoy the new freedoms we’re afforded.

—Jamie Hale; jhale@oregonian.com; 503-294-4077; @HaleJamesB

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