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The coast is clear-ing: Tourist lodgings reopening along Oregon and Washington shores

Lincoln City, Oregon, allowed its lodging industry to reopen on June 1.
Tom Banse
NW News Network
Lincoln City, Oregon, allowed its lodging industry to reopen on June 1.

Fresh salt air and a good night's sleep to the sound of lapping waves might be just what the doctor ordered for Pacific Northwesterners left frazzled by current events. A getaway to the seashore is back in the realm of possibility as many coastal Oregon and Washington towns relax closure orders on tourist lodgings and vacation rentals.

There are a few holdout places along the Pacific Coast that are staying closed to visitors until further notice, along with considerable wariness about reintroducing a virus that has largely spared coastal counties up to now.

Back in March, a succession of coastal Northwest counties and cities ordered tourist lodgings and campgrounds to close, or restricted reservations to essential workers to limit the spread of coronavirus from urban areas.

A soft reopening began in mid-May when the major tourist destinations of Ocean Shores, Washington, and Newport, Oregon, gave hotel operators and vacation rentals permission to reopen with conditions. Pacific County, Washington, which includes Long Beach soon followed suit. Seaside and Cannon Beach took similar steps on May 26. And on Monday, lodgings in Lincoln City had the green light to reopen.

Lincoln County, Oregon, along with Pacific County, required a 24 hour hold after a guest checks out before housekeeping staff may enter to clean a room and it is re-rented. Pacific County's health officer on Monday reduced the required hold time in his jurisdiction to three hours. More generally, county health officers throughout the region are promoting "touch free check in" or installation of plexiglass barriers at reception desks.

Astoria, Warrenton and Gearhart, Oregon, jointly agreed to let lodgings and camping reopen on June 5 at 60% capacity. Hospitality lodging businesses could then expand to 100% capacity on June 26 provided that the coronavirus trends in the community remain copacetic.

Washington's San Juan County will again welcome visitors a few days from now, but with hotels and marinas limited to 50% capacity for the next few weeks.

San Juan County Health Officer Dr. Frank James said he could confidently recommend a phased lifting of the transient lodging ban he first imposed in March given that four weeks have passed since there was a new case of COVID-19 in the island archipelago.

"It is extremely likely that there is no coronavirus spreading in our county right now, none," Dr. James told the county council on Tuesday. "If this were measles, we'd all be having a party because it's gone. Unfortunately, this disease is ensconced in other jurisdictions around us... and a lot of the people that come to our community are from those locations."

Outlook Inn co-owner Sara Farish told the county council that she practically burst into tears of happiness when she heard about the imminent reopening of the lodging industry.

"Like what the county is facing in terms of their budget, small businesses are also approaching a cliff. We want to back away from it in a very safe way that is safe for our community, but that also protects our livelihoods," Farish testified by telephone from Eastsound.

"We've made a lot of changes," Farish said in a follow up interview, including setting up a virtual front desk so that guests have no need to come into her lobby.

"We are ready," Farish said. "We're just chomping at the bit."

At the meeting where Dr. James and Farish spoke, San Juan County Councilmember Bill Watson expressed bemusement about "the messaging" of welcoming visitors again while Washington Gov. Jay Inslee -- and Oregon Gov. Kate Brown for that matter -- continue to discourage nonessential travel far from home.

The Oregon State Parks system will wait until June 9 to reopen campgrounds in state parks along the coast.

Not yet ready to reopen are resorts within two coastal Indian reservations. The Makah and Quileute reservations remain closed to outsiders. Olympic National Park is keeping the adjacent coastal park areas closed to visitors, too, in support of its neighbors.

The Quileute Tribal Council posted an open letter on Tuesday to announce that its closure would be extended to July 3. The Quileute Reservation encompasses the beach town of La Push, Washington.

"Continued closure is imperative at this time as La Push is a high tourist destination and we do not want to preemptively open the reservation and expose our community to individuals entering who may be unknowingly carrying COVID to the area," the letter signed by tribal chairman Douglas Woodruff Jr. said.


Copyright 2020 Northwest News Network

Correspondent Tom Banse is an Olympia-based reporter with more than three decades of experience covering Washington and Oregon state government, public policy, business and breaking news stories. Most of his career was spent with public radio's Northwest News Network, but now in semi-retirement his work is appearing on other outlets.
Tom Banse
Tom Banse covers national news, business, science, public policy, Olympic sports and human interest stories from across the Northwest. He reports from well known and out–of–the–way places in the region where important, amusing, touching, or outrageous events are unfolding. Tom's stories can be found online and heard on-air during "Morning Edition" and "All Things Considered" on NPR stations in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho.