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State police: Stay-at-home order isn't martial law

Police won't stop you from driving, but popular destinations ask visitors to stay away until pandemic has passed.

PMG FILE PHOTO - Oregon State Police don't plan to stop people from traveling, but they would like people to limit their trips.Gov. Kate Brown said the far-reaching executive order she issued Monday, March 23, should not stop immediate families from motoring for relaxation or driving to a trailhead, as long as they maintain proper social distancing while hiking.

"The goal here is to limit your social circles. The goal is to stay away from crowds. The goal is to maintain social distancing," Brown said of Oregon's efforts to stem the spread of COVID-19. "Oregonians are very innovative and creative, and I encourage them to comply with the spirit and the letter of the executive order."

pmgOregon State Police Superintendent Travis Hampton noted that most campgrounds and boat ramps are closed, so Oregonians and visitors should research their plans before heading out. In a letter to all Oregon police agencies, he emphasized that Brown's order was not martial law. People don't need documentation showing they are traveling legally to or from work or other permitted activities.

"An influx of visitors creates an undue burden on our efforts to maintain social distancing and strains our supply channels, public safety resources and health care system."

"There are no curfews and a person's movements are not restricted under the governor's executive order," Hampton wrote. "While details are offered in the order relating to social distancing, specific business closures and non-essential social gatherings, (Oregonians') movements are generally unrestricted."

Motorists should not be pulled over under suspicion of violating the executive order. "If, however, you are committing a traffic violation or crime that would be enforced independent of the order, you may be stopped, like any other day," he wrote.

As Hampton noted, the challenge may be finding a place to recreate.

Please stay away — for now

In her executive order, Brown said the need for a strong "Stay Home, Save Lives" directive was reinforced by seeing that crowds had gathered last weekend at the Oregon Coast, Smith Rock State Park, Columbia River Gorge and other places in defiance of social distancing guidelines.

State parks, public and private campgrounds, and many other recreation sites now are closed, either under the governor's order or voluntarily. Oregonians are allowed to go outside for recreation so long as they maintain appropriate social distancing — at least for six feet, except for family members living in the same residence.

Oregon's beloved ocean beaches are not closed but getting there — legally — could be problematic. "The state parks closure doesn't impact the ocean shore, but it does close all state park-managed parking lots and beach accesses," said Liz Merah of the governor's office. "The Oregon Parks and Recreation Department has the authority to close the beach temporarily for health reasons."

PMG FILE PHOTO - People are being asked to stop visiting popular destinations, like the Vista House at Crown Point in the Columbia River Gorge, or the beach, until the pandemic has passed.The department said in the FAQs posted online: "If people don't get the message that clumping up and overwhelming local areas is a bad idea, we'll have to revisit the decision to leave all beaches open."

Some coastal cities and counties also have closed beach access, as well as lodging, in part to keep visitors from spreading coronavirus and overwhelming local health facilities. In the Columbia Gorge, local officials also urged visitors to stay away — for now.

Hood River County Chair Mike Oates, Hood River Mayor Kate McBride and Cascade Locks Mayor Tom Cramblett issued a statement saying: "An influx of visitors creates an undue burden on our efforts to maintain social distancing and strains our supply channels, public safety resources and health care system.

"We look forward to hosting you again when things are back to normal."

Friends of the Columbia Land Trust also has closed the Mosier Plateau in Oregon and the Lyle Cherry Orchards in Washington. Both are popular for hiking.

Rules for some activities remain unclear. During Brown's Wednesday, March 25, telephone call with reporters, the governor was asked whether her stay-home order applied to couples in long-term relationships who don't live together but frequently stay over at one another's residence. "Every family is in a different situation," Brown responded. "The spirit of the executive order is to severely limit your social circles. So that's all I will say about sleeping together at this point."