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Gov. Kate Brown have the OK this week for long-term care facilities to have visitations for residents if they are outdoors. Grande Ronde Retirement Residence has allowed visits for about a week and has implemented a "hug glove" so visitors can safely hug a loved one at the facility.

LA GRANDE — Union County Commissioner Matt Scarfo was glad Oregon Gov. Kate Brown didn’t reissue shutdown restrictions as she had early in the COVID-19 pandemic.

Brown on Wednesday announced a series of additional regulations that went into effect Friday, including extending the mask requirements already in place to include children as young as 5, reducing gathering sizes at indoor venues back to a max of 100 and requiring masks in gyms even when people exercise, among others.

“At least she didn’t shut us down. In my opinion, that’s definitely a glass half-full type of thing,” Scarfo said. “She could have shut us down.”

The decision to reduce gathering sizes at indoor venues, including churches, won’t have a major impact locally, with many already having smaller gathering sizes or meeting online in the wake of last month’s outbreak in the county.

“It doesn’t have an immediate impact on us,” said Cameron Hefner, lead pastor at Faith Center La Grande. “We have been inching closer to doing some outdoor series but even those are in August.”

Prior to the June outbreak in Union County, Faith Center was planning to open indoor gatherings with a maximum of about 80 congregants — one-quarter of typical capacity — but stepped its reopening plans back when the outbreak occurred. The church has been meeting online in small group set-ups during the pandemic and likely will continue to do so for Sundays.

“We want to keep those small groups alive,” he said, adding those could also be the church’s “long-term solution.”

Hefner said the church is looking at the possibility of meeting in the parking lot for midweek services in August and possibly moving that service indoors later depending on what measures are in place. Even then, the indoor gathering would be capped at 50-60.

“Right now were just holding (those plans) very loosely and celebrating our small groups (as an option),” he said. “We don’t know what happens next.”

August also is when La Grande Church of the Nazarene may resume indoor services, pastor Kevin Goss said. The church has been meeting online since the pandemic started with the exception of a two-week period back in its building before the June outbreak.

Goss said the move from 250 back down to 100 for maximum capacity won’t be a drastic shift for the Nazarene church.

“It really doesn’t change much for us. Our space continues to hold with the distancing,” he said. “We were under 100 the two weeks we were open.”

Brown also Wednesday said visitations could begin at long-term care facilities as long as they were done outdoors.

Melody Johnson, executive director at Grande Ronde Retirement Residence, La Grande, said the Oregon Department of Human Services already put that move in place.

“We’ve already implemented it,” Johnson said. “We have our front patio on our assisted side marked off for social distancing. We have rules they have to follow by. She actually implemented this through DHS a week or two ago. We started it last week.”

The visitations are by appointment only, and each visitor is screened for COVID-19, Johnson said. The facility also has an outdoor sink where it is requiring visitors wash. Grande Ronde Retirement also requires people wear masks on its campus.

“The appointment scheduling is to minimize flow of foot traffic and allow greater control over the number of visitors,” she said, adding there is a limit of two visitors per resident.

Residents have received the move with joy.

“They haven’t been able to sit and interact with their families in any way (in person),” Johnson said. “We’ve had tears. Just lots of happiness.”

Grande Ronde Retirement also set up a “hug glove” where families could hug through plastic.

“We are definitely happy about it for sure,” Johnson said. “Glad that they get to see their families. You need love in your life. You need touch and you need to see your loved ones. Having that back is pretty phenomenal.”

East Region Sports Editor

Ronald's primary beats are Eastern Oregon University, La Grande High School and the other eight high schools of Union and Wallowa counties. As an avid sports fan, he is primarily reading about or watching sports when he isn't covering a game.

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