Portland is back, baby—though depending on how you feel about Gov. Kate Brown’s decision to lift almost all COVID-19 related regulations in the state as of June 30, you’ll end that thought with either an exclamation point, a question mark, or a string of words we ought not type on a family-friendly website.
Mayor Ted Wheeler, for one, would prefer the first one, and to sweeten the pot, the city is making all public transit rides free for the upcoming holiday weekend, between July 3 and July 5. The goal: to spur interest in the city’s bars, restaurants, gyms, and shops in the city’s dozens of distinct neighborhoods; all venues will be able to open at full capacity, and without physical distancing limits, though whether they choose to continue enforcing any of those protocols, including mask mandates, is up to them.
It’s a big change after months of plexiglass barriers between employees and customers, and the city’s reentry is more cautious than elsewhere, though on Wednesday Wheeler said at a press conference that a large number of city employees are expected to return to their offices after July 4 “on a voluntary basis,” while negotiations with labor unions continue over work schedules for others.
Unlike Seattle, where splashy events were announced to commemorate Wednesday’s lifting of COVID restrictions, Portland’s events calendar is still relatively sparse (though if you can get tickets, both the Timbers and the Thorns have upcoming home games). The Waterfront Blues Festival is back, but in limited, still socially distant forms at Zidell Yards in the South Waterfront, instead of its usual packed location at Gov. Tom McCall Waterfront Park.
Aside from the Providence Bridge Pedal bike event, which is on for August, there are no major events on the calendar yet, and the regular neighborhood street fairs and festivals that punctuate the summer calendar are mostly on hold too. (One event that is returning: The annual Cathedral Park Jazz Festival on July 16-18, which is free; the pop-up Piano Push Play, which places lavishly decorated pianos at strategic locations all over the city and invites anyone and everyone to plunk away also returns July 5, after a year’s hiatus.) And Sam Adams, a special adviser to Wheeler and a former mayor himself, said Wednesday that Portlanders can expect more news soon about summer events, including food festivals and outdoor concerts.
Masking rules will remain in effect in some places, including hospitals and health care system, on public transit and at the Portland International Airport. But at area grocery stores from New Seasons to Fred Meyers, signs requiring masks for customers came down on Wednesday morning.
The governor had hoped to hit a 70 percent rate of adults who had received at least their first dose of a vaccine before lifting all regulations, and the state as a whole fell just shy of that goal. But in Multnomah County, 72 percent of adults have received at least their first dose, county leaders said Wednesday, virtually double the number in some of the state’s more vaccine-wary counties. Local cases have plummeted accordingly, even with the spread of the more transmissible Delta variant.
Still, Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury said Wednesday that the mask mandate will remain in place inside county buildings for the time being, though that will be evaluated as the summer continues. Some county services—including the bulk of library branches—have yet to reopen to the public, though 10 more library branches will open by the end of July. Meanwhile, in Portland, a cumbersome online reservation system for reserving open swim time at public pools will sunset as of July 5, allowing normal drop-in swim visits.
"As today marks the beginning of the end, so to speak, I believe we still have a long road ahead of us," Ricky Gomez, the owner of Cuban eatery Palomar in SE Portland, said at a reopening event at Providence Park on Wednesday. "So if your favorite bar or restaurant looks a little different than the last time you were there, don't worry. Be patient with us. We're catching up. We'll get there. Our new normal will be a little different for awhile. But...I'm glad to proudly say, 'We're open for business.'"
Not everyone was ready to remove their masks, though. Angel Medina, the owner of the Mexican-forward restaurant and cafe República and La Perlita in Portland's Pearl District, says masks will still be required indoors when not eating, to protect a staff member who is immuno-compromised.
“Everyone here has been incredibly respectful of wearing a mask and boundaries,” he says. “The only people that have gotten upset about this are the people who act like children when they are told to wear a mask.”