ONTARIO, Oregon — COVID-19 cases were on the rise this fall prompting Oregon's Governor Kate Brown to issue a two-week freeze in November in an effort to slow the spread of the virus.
On December 18, the Governor doubled down with new restrictions for counties in extreme risk, that included 29 out of 36 counties in the state and also Malheur County on the border of Oregon and Idaho.
The new restrictions prevent indoor recreation businesses, most notably gyms from opening until the county moves out of the extreme stage.
“In November they came down with another shutdown and we decided at that point we were just going to stay open," said Mike Brownfield who owns The Gym in Ontario.
The Gym wasn't the only fitness center to open back up in Ontario, Brownfield told us he had to dig into his savings to keep the gym afloat this past year, and while he doesn't want to disobey the government he believes that another closure would lead to closing forever.
"The thought of not being able to keep this place open that’s heartbreaking," said Brownfield. "This isn’t about trying to break the law, it is more about keeping a place open that people can come in and relieve that stress."
Restaurants have also been impacted by the new regulations as they were told to revert back to carry out only unless they had outside seating available.
Jason Jungling bought the Plaza Inn Restaurant last year from his parents who ran it for 23 years, now Jason and his wife have taken over this family tradition.
“I actually approached the city council and asked if they would support us opening back up," said Jungling.
The city council's hands were tied, but they did provide $12,000 to allow six different restaurants including the Plaza Inn to purchase outdoor canvas tents and heaters to make dining in winter more reasonable.
Jungling told us he appreciates the support of the community who helped in a variety of different ways and his customers keep coming back.
"It’s been tough, but the community has been great," said Jungling. "We’ve obtained that number that I need to hit each day in order to at least break even so I’m hopeful that we will survive through this.”
As for the gyms, Governor Kate Brown has said businesses who defy these guidelines will set the state back in coronavirus case numbers and those businesses will face state punishments.
We called Craig Geddes of the Malheur County Environmental Health Department, he told us enforcement of the opening back up will be determined by Oregon's division of OSHA, and the last he heard the case against The Gym is pending.
The Gym is a large facility with 12,000 square feet to enable people to spread out and they do enforce COVID-19 protocols.
Brownfield told us he talked with OSHA, they told him there is a backlog of cases and penalties would only happen if they received complaints about an unsafe environment.
“So far we haven’t had any, everybody has been really happy keeping the place open," said Brownfield. "I truly believe this is a place that people need not just for physical health, but mental health as well.”
We have detailed the challenges for limiting the spread of COVID-19 in this border town as people travel back and forth from Idaho to Oregon on a regular basis.