Rogue Valley News, Wednesday, 4/29 – Oregon to Extend Unemployment Benefits To Self-Employed and Contract Workers

The latest news stories and stories of interest in the Rogue Valley and around the state of Oregon from the online digital home of the valley, RogueValleyMagazine.com

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Rogue Valley Weather

Today  Partly sunny, with a high near 78. Light west northwest wind.  Overnight a slight chance of rain before midnight, then a slight chance of showers after midnight. Mostly cloudy, with a low around 53. Chance of precipitation is 20%.

Thursday  A 40% chance of showers, mainly before noon. Mostly cloudy, with a high near 71.

Friday  Mostly sunny, with a high near 73.

Saturday  A chance of rain. Partly sunny, with a high near 72.

Today’s Headlines

Covid-19 positive cases in Southern Oregon

Jackson County 49

Josephine County 20

Douglas County 23

Curry County 4

Coos County 15

Klamath County 37

State of Oregon reporting 7 new COVID-19 deaths yesterday, 31 new cases, 2385 cases total

COVID-19 has claimed seven more lives in Oregon, raising the state’s death toll from 92 to 99, the Oregon Health Authority reported at 8 a.m. today.

Oregon Health Authority also reported 31 new cases of COVID-19 as of 8 a.m. today bringing the state total to 2,385. The new COVID-19 cases reported today are in the following counties: Clackamas (1), Coos (1), Harney (1), Klamath (1), Linn (2), Marion (9), Morrow (1), Multnomah (13), Umatilla (1), Wasco (1), Yamhill (1).

The state also announced 31 new known cases of the coronavirus, bringing Oregon’s total to 2,385 cases. The amount of active infections is unclear. A total of 52,242 people have been tested with 49,857 tests (95%) coming back negative. 

“A person is considered recovered once they are free of fever (without the use of fever-reducing medication), cough, shortness of breath, and diarrhea for 72 hours,” OHA said. “If they are not yet recovered, public health staff will call back weekly until the person is recovered. COVID-19 cases without symptoms are considered recovered 7 days after the last positive test.”

The median recovery time for cases who had symptoms was 15 days, while the median recovery time for those who were hospitalized was 19 days.

Oregon forestry officials say that they have seen an unusual number of wildland fires so far this year, well before the customary beginning of fire season. According to the Oregon Department of Forestry Fire Prevention, there have been almost three times as many fires than normal in 2020.

As of Monday, ODF had record of 83 fires in the state, burning 141 acres.

According to the federal Bureau of Land Management (BLM), almost two-thirds of Oregon is showing some level of drought conditions at present, with about 30 percent of the state showing either moderate or severe drought conditions. A much smaller part, just 2.4 percent of the state, is in extreme drought conditions — primarily in the far southwestern corner of the state along the California border.

“The small pocket of extreme drought conditions on the Oregon map, colored in red, is isolated to the southwest corner of the state,” BLM said, referring to a drought condition map [above]. “The severe drought conditions, in orange, run the length of western Oregon with another large area stretching across central Oregon, from Bend to the Columbia River.”

Information from the National Integrated Drought Information System (NIDIS) predicts that most of the state will be in a persistent drought through July.

Drought conditions historically provide the foundation for more devastating wildfires. Due largely to those conditions, the National Interagency Fire Center has predicted “significant large fire potential” for much of the northwestern United States by July of this year. Eastern Washington, southern and central Oregon, and much of northern California fall within the area considered at high risk.

COVD-19 has also had an impact on fire season preparations this year, forcing forestry agencies to adapt or halt their usual prescribed burn treatments for areas considered at high fire risk.

Some Klamath Project water users again yesterday protested on  U.S. Bureau of Reclamation’s use of water at the Link River Dam, at one point voicing plans to stay near the dam until Reclamation followed Oregon water law.

Irrigators took their personal property and belongings from the area by Monday afternoon, following the ramp down of flows on the Link River Dam by Bureau of Reclamation officials. The protest started Sunday evening with upwards of 30 irrigators gathering near the entrance to the dam, which is owned by Reclamation and used to regulate Upper Klamath Lake levels and Klamath River flows at the direction of Reclamation. At issue was whether Reclamation is following Oregon water law in doing so.

An interim order put in place by Oregon Water Resources Department on April 21 gave the state agency charge over the water distribution and demanded that Reclamation not use water from Upper Klamath Lake, including in a flushing flow down the Link River Dam, unless it follows specific guidelines outlined in the order. The order has not stopped the recent 40,000 acre foot flushing flow meant to promote the health of juvenile coho salmon, but Reclamation had already started to ramp down the flows at the Link River Dam.

Monday, an Oregon State Police Sergeant conducted a traffic stop on a 2019 Dodge Caravan, for several traffic violations, on Hwy 66 milepost 51 near Keno.

The sergeant observed signs of criminal activity and a search of the vehicle was conducted.

During the search, $236,090 in vacuum-sealed bags was discovered.

The driver, Drew Miller (27) of Sioux Falls, South Dakota, was arrested and lodged in the Klamath County Jail on charges of Laundering a Monetary Instrument, Engaging in Financial Transaction in Property Derived from Unlawful Activity, Possession of a Schedule II Controlled SubstanceI (Amphetamines), and Tampering with Evidence and Conspiracy.

The Oregon State Police was assisted by the United States Department of Homeland Security – Homeland Security Investigations.

Around the state of Oregon

After weeks of struggling under an overwhelming number of unemployment claims, the Oregon Employment Department (OED) says that it’s ready to extend unemployment benefits to the self-employed and gig workers that are not usually covered by state insurance, a provision of the federal CARES Act.

The Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program was designed to extend benefits to many who wouldn’t ordinarily qualify for benefits — the self-employed, independent contractors, agricultural workers, the under-employed, and gig workers.

The state agency says that it has recruited and trained staff to process these new types of claims. Much of the delay has hinged on programming changes to the state’s antiquated computer system.

Senators Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden announced Tuesday that Oregon hospitals and health care providers will get more funding distributed from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.

Over $103 million will be distributed among 141 health care providers across the state.

This is the second portion of the CARES act to be distributed. The first allocation was distributed the week of April 10.

The funds can be used toward building or retrofitting new intensive care units, increasing staffing or training, providing personal protective equipment, building temporary structures, and more.

Health care providers can also use the funds to cover revenue losses from cancelled procedures.

Oregon OSHA has adopted a temporary rule to increase protections for workers against the spread of coronavirus in employer-provided housing and in labor-intensive farm operations.

The rule, which takes effect May 11, 2020,  addresses the COVID-19 emergency in such housing and operations by strengthening requirements in three areas: field sanitation, labor housing, and transportation.

“This temporary rule reflects the need to rapidly address COVID-19 in operations where the nature of the work – and the spaces in which that work occurs – raise particularly daunting challenges,” said Michael Wood, administrator for Oregon OSHA. “At the same time, it accounts for the feasibility issues employers may encounter as they step up to fulfill these new responsibilities.”

The rule, which will remain in effect until no later than Oct. 28, 2020, encompasses multiple provisions.

In field sanitation, for example, it requires employers to appoint one or more social distancing officers to ensure at least six feet of separation during work activities, breaks, and meal periods. The same applies for housing operations to ensure at least six feet of distance between unrelated people.

In transportation, for example, the rule requires at least three feet of social distancing during travel in employer-provided vehicles, as well as facial coverings worn by passengers and by the driver in employer-provided vehicles.

The rule stems from a March 20 request by the Oregon Law Center and Dr. Eva Galvez of Virginia Garcia Memorial Health Center to immediately adopt requirements related to such housing and operations. Instead, Oregon OSHA treated the request as a petition for rulemaking and put it on a faster evaluation track than normal. That track included time for public comments, the deadline for which was April 13. Oregon OSHA reviewed more than 120.

As the division moves forward with a temporary rule aimed at reducing worker exposure to COVID-19, it expects to continue discussing broader issues involving agriculture labor housing. Just as it has for more than a year, the division’s Agriculture Labor Housing Committee – encompassing labor, employer, grower, and government representatives – will continue that discussion.

Meanwhile, the temporary rule’s requirements – the effective dates of which are staggered in certain cases – are as follows:

Field sanitation

  • Employers must appoint one or more social distancing officers and implement work practices to ensure at least six feet of separation during work activities, breaks, and meal periods.
  • Effective June 1, 2020, employers must increase toilet availability by decreasing the ratio of both toilet and handwashing facilities in the field from the current one per 20 workers to one per 10 workers. Employers who can demonstrate that market availability prevents immediate compliance must provide as many toilet and handwashing facilities as possible until the ratio is achieved.
  • In addition to the existing requirement that toilet and handwashing facilities be within a quarter mile of workers, toilets must be located at the entrance or exit to the field or in a completely harvested area, whichever is closer.
  • Toilets and handwashing facilities must be sanitized at least three times daily.
  • Field sanitation notice and training requirements are revised to include prevention of COVID-19.

Labor housing

  • In relation to registered agricultural labor housing operations,  additional guidance is provided on registration of temporary housing and the use of existing hotel or motel facilities.
  • Employers must appoint one or more social distancing officers and implement housing operations to ensure at least six feet of separation between unrelated individuals.
  • Effective June 1, 2020, employers must provide additional toilets by reducing the ratio from one toilet for every 15 workers to one toilet for every 10 workers. Employers who can demonstrate that market availability prevents immediate compliance must provide as many toilet facilities as possible until the ratio is achieved.
  •  Use of bunk beds by unrelated individuals is prohibited.
  • Square footage requirements do not change. However,  the separation of beds by at least six feet or by an impermeable barrier is required.
  • Common use toilets and handwashing facilities, and other high contact common use items must be sanitized at least two times daily.  Employers must also  provide appropriate cleaning materials to enable occupants to keep private living areas clean and sanitary.
  • As required under existing Oregon Health Authority rules, COVID-19 must be reported immediately, day or night.
  • In terms of  the isolation of COVID-19 confirmed or suspected cases, employers must follow certain requirements, including ensuring that  food and water is provided to those in isolation.

Transportation

  •  At least three feet of social distancing must be maintained during travel in employer-provided vehicles.
  •  Facial coverings must be worn by passengers and by the driver in employer-provided vehicles.
  •  High-contact areas in employer-provided vehicles must be sanitized before each trip or at least two times daily if in continuous use.
  •  Employers must  provide training to employees about ensuring appropriate social distancing when in their personal vehicles.

For more information about Oregon OSHA workplace guidance and resources related to the coronavirus outbreak, visit https://osha.oregon.gov/Pages/re/covid-19.aspx

Executives at Portland State University are having their pay cut as the school deals with a budget shortfall caused by the coronavirus pandemic.  

Interim President Stephen Percy’s salary has been cut 15-percent for the next six months.  Other senior executives, including vice presidents, general counsel, deans, vice provosts, and the athletics director, will take reductions of either 10% or 7.7% depending on individual salaries.  Percy hopes the cuts show the resolve the school has toward long-term planning and effects on the budget.

Oregon Labor Commissioner Val Hoyle has announced that managers in the agency will have to take one unpaid furlough day a month through June of 2021 as the agency braces for budget cuts.  Hoyle says the May economic forecast will give a better indication of what the state faces and how much revenue needs to be cut.  She says services will be prioritized to protect Oregon workers from discrimination, harassment and workplace rule violations. 


The latest State of Oregon Covid-19 News & Preparedness Information Here.

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