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The welcome sign in Manzanita has been covered by a notice that the town is closed to visitors. 

Residents of the Oregon coast know there are always visitors in the community, more so during summertime and holidays. Despite warnings in place because of the coronavirus pandemic, the visitors came in droves for spring break.

Many visitors stay in transient lodging – hotels, motels, RV parks and campgrounds. And normally the population swell is welcomed by local businesses, many of which depend on tourism to stay afloat in rural coastal towns. Due to growing worries about the pandemic, however, locals have been wary of outside visitors and even those who own second homes in the area.

Seeing so many people from outside the community during ‘stay home’ mandates to prevent viral spread left some asking if short-term rental companies had moved quickly enough to take down advertising and cancel sold rooms. Others have questioned whether the cleaning staff for such businesses are properly prepared and equipped against COVID-19.

Facing the potential spread of coronavirus, county officials took significant action to stop the flow of tourists during spring break. Much of Tillamook County was already closed for business by then after the state banned large gatherings and limited service from restaurants and bars to delivery and carryout.

Tillamook County is under a state of emergency until at least April 28. County, state and federal parks are closed as well as county parking lots, county beach access and certain roadside parking areas, public boat launches except for commercial fishing.

Hotels, motels, short-term vacation rentals, bed and breakfasts, RV parks and campgrounds are all closed except to guests registered longer than 30 days, essential personnel and emergency responders. Despite the best efforts of public agencies and community leaders, the visitors are reportedly still coming to the coast.

Taking daily calls and emails on the subject, Tillamook County’s Department of Community Development has been diligently responding to concerns and inquiries related to short-term rental activities, according to Community Development Director Sarah Absher.

“The coordinated efforts of transient lodging operators and community residents to help address public health, welfare and safety concerns regarding short term rental activity in relation to the threat of COVID-19 is greatly appreciated,” Absher said in an email.

For those properties continuing to rent in accordance with the exceptions outlined county officials, Absher said Community Development is working closely with short-term rental operators to document rental activities so that community concerns and inquiries regarding these properties can be responded to immediately.

Community Development has also confirmed that many of the currently occupied short-term rentals are for personal use by property owners as well as their extended family and friends, which is not prohibited under the Tillamook County state of emergency order. Violations of the county order could result in revocation of a rental permit or fines of up to $1,000 per day per incident.

If a violation is confirmed, code enforcement action will be taken in accordance with the enforcement process outlined in Tillamook County Ordinance 84. Any questions or concerns related to short- term rental activities should be directed to the Department of Community Development at 503-842-3408 ext. 3317.

Vacasa, a Portland vacation rental management company, is perhaps the biggest name in coastal short-term rentals. Vacasa public relations manager Anni Murphy said in an email that during this period of uncertainty the company is strongly encouraging everyone to follow health and safety guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Murphy said Vacasa is complying with orders and travel restrictions issued by federal, state and local governments.

“Specifically, we are adhering to the recent order issued by Tillamook County, and we are cancelling reservations in the region as required,” Murphy said.

Murphy said to the company’s knowledge, no Vacasa employees have tested positive for COVID-19 as of this past week. She said Vacasa is offering comprehensive health benefits including flexible time off and the ability to work remotely.

“We employ local team members in every destination where we operate, which allows us the ability to ensure our homes are cleaned thoroughly in line with standards set by the World Health Organization and Health and Safety Executive,” Murphy said. “We provide our valuable employees with the proper cleaning supplies per the CDC and Environmental Protection Agency for COVID-19, and we’re ensuring they’re able to work autonomously to adhere to social distancing recommendations.”

Responding to the question of protective masks for cleaning staff, Murphy cited the short supply of masks and respirators and guidance that they should be reserved for people who are exhibiting symptoms or healthcare professionals working directly with sick patients. Vacasa employees have been instructed to stay home if they are feeling ill to minimize the risk of spreading illness.

Vacasa notified employees at the end of March that it is laying off an unspecified number of workers, cutting the hours of others in half, and reducing executive pay.

The Oregonian reported that Vacasa was Oregon’s most promising company in a generation, raising more than $500 million in outside investment that valued the business at more than $1 billion. But the hospitality and lodging industry has been walloped by the coronavirus outbreak, with vacation travel all but ceasing as people seek to protect themselves from infection.

“With rapidly evolving travel restrictions and closures in popular vacation destinations like ski resorts and beaches, we are seeing a significant decline in reservations and revenue,” Vacasa said in a written statement. “To preserve the longevity of our business, we have to make proactive and significant cost adjustments, including staffing changes across the organization.”

Privately held Vacasa also maintains vacation homes for property owners. It has 6,000 employees worldwide. While Vacasa did not say how many employees would be laid off or how many would have hours cut, the company did say that interim CEO Matt Roberts would take no pay through the end of the year and that other executives will have their compensation reduced by half.

Gov. Kate Brown has urged Oregonians to stay home. She said people should "stay home, stay healthy," and she has banned large gathering and closed schools because of the coronavirus.

City of Manzanita staff issued a press release Tuesday, April 7, outlining staying at home guidelines for second home owners. The press release said Manzanita city staff have received a number of complaints from citizens over the past week regarding those who own second homes in the area choosing Manzanita over their primary residences.

“We highly encourage everyone with homes in Manzanita to please stay home at their permanent or primary residence,” the press release said. “Manzanita, and the rest of Tillamook County have limited resources, including food, general supplies, and an extremely limited amount of hospital beds and medical care facilities.”

“In addition, there is the added concern about those traveling from a more highly infected area bringing the virus to Manzanita that has, thus far, been effective in preventing wide-spread infection,” the press release said.

Manzanita does not have the authority to force a second-home owner to leave or to enter homes and enforce social distancing mandates, count occupants or issue tickets if multiple cars are legally parks outside a home, the press release continued. Street closures and identity checkpoints are also out of the question.

It was asked that residents do not contact city staff because of strange people or vehicles in town to ensure limited resources are used only to pursue serious complaints about stay home mandates. Contact 911 for emergencies; for non-emergency situations you can call and leave a message at the Manzanita Police Department 503-368-7229.

“The City is standing ready to aid in gaining compliance during this emergency and will follow-up with reported violations,” the press release said. “The city will follow up on complaints by first attempting to educate potential violators. If education fails to gain compliance, the City may, by the language in the executive order, cite individuals with a Class C Misdemeanor.”

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