To stay or to go, this Labor Day weekend, Oregonians? It's a pickle.
The messaging coming from government is mixed. On one hand, Gov. Kate Brown has urged Oregonians to “think hard about traveling, and gathering in large groups.”
COVID is still spreading in our communities. When you're making your plans for Labor Day weekend, think hard about traveling and gathering in large groups. @OHAOregon is reporting cases where a single choice to share a house at the coast led to hundreds of infections. pic.twitter.com/eNqP19im2E— Governor Kate Brown (@OregonGovBrown) September 2, 2020
On the other hand, the governor, and health officials, aren’t requiring us to stay home, or even remain within a 50-mile radius, and they haven’t closed bars, restaurants and retail shops that lure in many visitors.
New data from the travel industry reflects this push-pull.
Hotel occupancy levels on the Oregon Coast, and in Southern and Central Oregon are nearly back to, or even slightly above, 2019 levels, suggesting that Oregonians (and, most likely, a healthy influx of our neighbors from the north and south) are venturing back out on the road. Perhaps some of us are in search of deals: the average daily rate for a hotel room in Oregon is down 18.6 percent from this time last year, at a cost of $115.53 per night.
But of course, travel comes with risk, and while people are venturing back into hotels, says Sara Morrissey, a public affairs manager for strategy at Travel Oregon, that doesn’t tell the full story.
“We’re seeing a dramatic drop in direct spending,” says Morrissey, singling out restaurants, coffee shops, tour outfitters, and small local retail stores. Overall, spending on travel for 2020 is expected to decline between 58 percent (a best-case scenario, believe it or not), and 67 percent (worst case.) In practical terms, that means a revenue loss of between $7-$8 billion, job losses of between 32,000 and 53,000 and a huge hit to the state’s tax revenue base, which pays for schools, social services, and public safety.
In other words: People are going places, and then when they get there, they’re staying put instead of spending money at local establishments.
So, should we all go out this weekend and support small businesses?
Well, after previous holiday weekends, including Mother’s Day, Memorial Day and the 4th of July, when Oregonians got together with friends and family, COVID infection rates shot up. And while our COVID numbers have definitely leveled off—on Wednesday, the state reported 140 new cases, the lowest total in months—they’re still significantly more than they were in April and early May, when Oregonians were obeying a shelter in place order.
Brown’s made it clear, too, that even with case numbers plateauing, at our current rates it could be anywhere from two to six months before its safe for kids statewide to return to school—meaning that there’s still collective work to be done.
So what’s an Oregonian on Labor Day to do, especially with a forecast that’s sunny and hot and perfect for adventures (and knowing that though life holds very few constants, the return of the rain isn’t so very far away)?
Our take: Hit the road, but carefully. Wear your masks, of course. Order take-out, or eat and drink at outdoor patios only. Respect posted occupancy limits at businesses, wait your turn, and stay at least six away from everyone else once you do get inside. Travel with those in your household or bubble, and no one else.
“It is going to be a slow road to recovery—we see that in the forecast,” Morrissey says. “Oregon has been smart in managing the public health crisis. Now hopefully we can be strategic in rebuilding the economy as well.”