Fines, Jail Possible for COVID ‘Freeze’ Violators

Gov. Kate Brown’s new statewide prohibition on social gatherings to slow coronavirus spreading could be enforced with jail time and hefty fines.

Violating Brown’s order, which bans indoor and outdoor gatherings of more than six people from two separate households, amounts to a misdemeanor and is punishable by arrest. Failure to comply could reportedly result in a fine up to $1,250 and 30 days in jail – the same penalties imposed under March’s stay-home order. It’s not clear if any penalties were ever applied from that time. 

“For the last eight months I have been asking Oregonians to follow the letter and the spirit of the law and we have not chosen to engage law enforcement,” Brown said. “At this point in time, unfortunately, we have no other option.” 

A governor’s office spokesman told The Oregonian that state police “will be working with local law enforcement to enforce the governor’s orders, in the same way local law enforcement officers respond to noise complaints for loud parties, for example, and issue citations.” 

The order, which takes effect Wednesday, Nov. 18, also limits bars and restaurants to takeout dining, closes gyms, limits capacity at grocery stores and pharmacies, and restricts churches and faith groups to gatherings no larger than 25 people. 

Slated to last two weeks, the freeze doesn’t apply to barber shops, hair salons, or homeless shelters. Outdoor recreation and sports programs such as college football games are also exempt, as are childcare programs and K-12 schools. Grocery and retail stores will be limited to 75% occupancy. In Multnomah County, where infections are high, Brown said the freeze would last for at least four weeks. 

The new restrictions followed a week in which Oregon broke its single-day record for COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations. With the Thanksgiving holiday on the horizon, Washington and California are also taking action, joining Brown in asking those who travel between any of the three states to self-quarantine for two weeks.  

Oregon is averaging around 1,100 new coronavirus cases daily, three times the rate from a month ago. The rate of positives is more than doubled, and hospitalizations are quickly rising. Health authorities attribute the rapid increase to reckless social gatherings, including a Halloween party that allegedly attracted 100 people. All of this is happening at a time when the Oregon Health Authority warns that Oregon hospitals could run out of ICU beds by mid-December. 

By Cody Mann