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365 Days Later: Resilience

One year ago today, all indoor service at restaurants, bars, taprooms, and breweries were shutdown, as ordered days prior by Oregon Governor Kate Brown. While our perception of time may have sped up over the past 6 months, it still feels like it’s been years to reach this point.

Since then, beloved local institutions of consumption are no more… Bailey’s Taproom, Portland Brewing, Untapped, Base Camp Brewing, and more have announced permanent closures. Quite a few more are still temporarily closed until indoor occupancy increases, although restrictions in Multnomah, Washington and Clackamas counties have now been eased to an indoor seating capacity of 50% as of Friday.

While Oregon’s cases of COVID-19 have steadily declined, and generally remain at lower numbers, our 2 week rolling average still has us at numbers similar to those during the second spike of cases last July. While cases have ticked back up in recent weeks, they’re primarily due to a few outlying counties in Central Oregon and the Southern Coast.

Oregon’s COVID-19 case numbers as of March 16th, 2021

Concurrently, roughly 20% of Oregonians have received at least one dose of vaccine and 12% both doses. Then consider that around 160 thousand of 4.2 million Oregonians contracted the virus over the past year or just under 4%. As a result, a higher vaccination rate is needed to reach herd immunity – those who possess antibodies, either by infection or vaccination.

So we’re not out of the woods just yet, although throughout Oregon K-5 schooling is set to resume onsite instruction by March 29th and grades 6-12 by April 19th. Yes, the recent downward case trend is encouraging, though after going through 3 or 4 case spikes over the past year, this new easing of indoor restrictions makes me just a little nervous.

Despite steady protests, wildfires, and an ice storm, Oregon has done better than most in being able to weather this thing. Breweries and taprooms have been especially resilient despite all the above factors potentially disrupting an industry that’s had to sustain itself by creating outdoor service, ramp up the packaging of beer, home delivery, and to-go options.

Patio seating at Von Ebert Brewing’s Glendoveer location, June 2020

On the distribution side, the biggest change over the past month or so are all the locations that have reopened and/or have begun to buy kegs again. This coincides with breweries also beginning to pour draft again, forcing yet another tricky pivot for breweries which have been in home delivery/to-go/distro packaged beer mode for most of the year. As a result, having a steady supply of draft, especially West Coast IPA, has been tougher to keep in stock.

I’ve heard a number of people prognosticate about home delivery and packaged beer being “the new normal” going forward, but I’m not convinced. As the days grow warmer and indoor occupancy increases, more and more people will yearn for that return to normalcy, though it’s hard to know for sure until we’re at a vaccination rate of at least 80%. And while we are beginning to see national averages of 2.5 million vaccines administered daily, which will likely climb to an average exceeding 3 million daily by April, President Biden’s projection of a return to safe gatherings by July 4th is still a guestimate.

This past year has proven that Portland is driven by passionate, community focused citizens who want nothing more than to gather in this congenial environment. It’s a town populated by small businesses and artisans that are competing less against each other, but more against failure itself. We’ve collectively fought to sustain our way of life, despite the obstacles before us, including an isolating pandemic that could have dealt us a far worse fate than where we are today.

In the coming months we must temper this seemingly new found freedom with a continued diligence to protect ourselves and especially those who still mask-up everyday to serve our communities. While I am cautiously optimistic that we’ll soon be through this challenging chapter of our history, until then, let’s do what we can to make it so, not slip into complacency or dispatching with the mask mandate (as other states have) that could precipitate another spike of cases.

Unless something earth shattering happens over the next 4 months, this will be the last entry in my series about the pandemic in Oregon. While I envisioned this last article being more retrospective – a mourning of the institutions we’ve lost over the past year, it seems more appropriate for us to now focus on what’s next and be optimistic for the future. We’re almost through this and if the past year is an indication of our resilient nature, we’ll be done with it before we know it. Just not yet…

Further reading in this series:

Portland’s Beer & Service Industries Adapt Amid COVID-19 Outbreak
14 Days Later: Portland Breweries Persist
21 Days Later: Best Practices & Updating PDX’s Open Breweries and Taprooms
42 Days Later: The New Normal
56 Days Later: Going Through Phases
70 Days Later: Reopening Responsibly
84 Days Later, Part I: Starting Phase 1
84 Days Later, Part II: Revolt and Revival
98 Days Later: Multnomah Slowly Reopens
112 Days Later: Stasis
247 Days Later: Into The Freeze
Beer in 2020: Trends, Adaptation, Finale

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