Historic building still heart of county

The Morrow County Courthouse in Heppner was constructed in 1902 to replace the original wooden courthouse.

HEPPNER — Morrow County is still drafting a plan for reopening businesses and lifting restrictions from the COVID-19 pandemic in hopes of submitting a proposal to the state at its next board of commissioners meeting on May 6.

“It’s tough to balance the health piece with the economic piece,” said Morrow County Commissioner Melissa Lindsay. “It’s a delicate path to follow right now.”

The board of commissioners met Wednesday to discuss its planning with staff and the public, and Lindsay said the board will be working alongside the county health department to draft its plan.

Umatilla County submitted a proposal to Gov. Kate Brown for review on Monday with the target of May 15 to begin easing some restrictions, while Baker County sent one of its own last Friday. The proposals have carefully followed multiphase frameworks laid out by Brown, and President Donald Trump, last week.

Though Morrow County is still in the drafting process, Lindsay said the goal is for the initial plan to be flexible and it will likely be comparable to those plans submitted by other Eastern Oregon counties.

“The Association of Oregon Counties has been really good to compile other counties' drafts and share them so we aren’t required to reinvent the wheel on our own too much,” Linsday said.

Morrow County has only six confirmed cases of COVID-19 as of Wednesday. Though only 89 tests have been conducted on samples from county residents, the minimal signs of a local outbreak have the board of commissioners feeling pressure to alleviate some of the economic turmoil small business owners are going through.

“It’s difficult when you see a Walmart with a full parking lot and then a small, Main Street business can’t even open to sell T-shirts,” Lindsay said.

Lindsay added that the county’s churches, many of which consist of only a few dozen people at the most, have also made it clear that they’d like to begin congregating again soon.

The county will continue to seek guidance from the governor’s office as well, which Lindsay said may be providing more information about the state’s reopening framework later this week.

Either way, Lindsay said Morrow County will follow the rest of the state in making sure its reopening strategy is gradual and deliberate with public health and safety at the forefront.

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