The latest news stories and stories of interest in the Rogue Valley from the digital home of Southern Oregon, from Wynne Broadcasting’s RogueValleyMagazine.com
Thursday, May 20, 2021
Rogue Valley Weather
Thursday– A 30 percent chance of showers. Snow level 2700 feet rising to 4500 feet in the afternoon. Partly sunny, with a high near 59. Northwest wind 7 to 13 mph, with gusts as high as 20 mph.
Friday– A 20 percent chance of showers. Snow level 3600 feet rising to 5100 feet in the afternoon. Partly sunny, with a high near 61. Light west wind becoming northwest 5 to 10 mph in the afternoon.
Saturday– A 20 percent chance of showers. Mostly sunny, with a high near 72.
Sunday– Mostly sunny, with a high near 76.
Monday– A slight chance of showers after 11am. Mostly sunny, with a high near 79.
Oregon reports 394 new confirmed and presumptive COVID-19 cases, 7 new deaths
There are seven new COVID-19 related deaths in Oregon, raising the state’s death toll to 2,601. The Oregon Health Authority reported 394 new confirmed and presumptive cases of COVID-19 bringing the state total to 196,787.
The new confirmed and presumptive COVID-19 cases reported today are in the following counties: Baker (1), Benton (6), Clackamas (31), Clatsop (5), Columbia (4), Coos (1), Crook (11), Curry (6), Deschutes (36), Douglas (8), Grant (1), Harney (3), Hood River (1), Jackson (31), Jefferson (8), Josephine (11), Klamath (9), Lake (1), Lane (22), Lincoln (1), Linn (24), Malheur (4), Marion (42), Morrow (1), Multnomah (57), Polk (8), Tillamook (2), Umatilla (10), Union (1), Wallowa (2), Wasco (4), Washington (32) and Yamhill (10).
Vaccinations in Oregon
Today, OHA reported that 24,280 new doses of COVID-19 vaccinations were added to the state immunization registry. Of this total, 17,217 doses were administered on May 18 and 7,063 were administered on previous days but were entered into the vaccine registry on May 18.
The 7-day running average is now 27,118 doses per day.
Oregon has now administered a total of 1,994,644 first and second doses of Pfizer, 1,491,984 first and second doses of Moderna and 125,435 single doses of Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccines. As of today, 1,635,033 people have completed a COVID-19 vaccine series. There are 2,097,233 people who have had at least one dose.
Cumulative daily totals can take several days to finalize because providers have 72 hours to report doses administered and technical challenges have caused many providers to lag in their reporting. OHA has been providing technical support to vaccination sites to improve the timeliness of their data entry into the state’s ALERT Immunization Information System (IIS).
To date, 2,441,205 doses of Pfizer, 1,968,260 doses of Moderna and 269,300 doses of Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccines have been delivered to sites across Oregon.
These data are preliminary and subject to change. OHA’s dashboards provide regularly updated vaccination data, and Oregon’s dashboard has been updated today.
The number of hospitalized patients with COVID-19 across Oregon is 306, which is 25 fewer than yesterday. There are 78 COVID-19 patients in intensive care unit (ICU) beds, which is one fewer than yesterday.
The total number of COVID-19 positive patient bed-days in the most recent seven days is 2,338, which is a 0.9% increase from the previous seven days. The peak daily number of beds occupied by COVID-19 positive patients in the most recent seven days is 351.
The total number of patients in hospital beds may fluctuate between report times. The numbers do not reflect admissions per day, nor the length of hospital stay. Staffing limitations are not captured in this data and may further limit bed capacity. More information about hospital capacity can be found here.
Weekly COVID-19 cases decline, deaths and hospitalizations rise
The Oregon Health Authority’s COVID-19 Weekly Report, released today, shows decreases in daily cases and increases in hospitalizations and deaths from the previous week.
OHA reported 4,108 new daily cases of COVID-19 during the week of Monday, May 10, through Sunday, May 16. That represents a 16% decrease from the previous week.
New COVID-19 related hospitalizations rose to 265, up from 245 last week.
Reported COVID-19 related deaths rose to 57, up from 31 last week — the highest weekly death toll in 10 weeks.
There were 103,155 tests for COVID-19 for the week of May 9 through May 15 — a 7% decrease from last week. The percentage of positive tests rose from 6.1% to 6.4%.
People 70 years of age and older have accounted for 38% of COVID-19 related hospitalizations and 75% of COVID-19 related deaths.
Today’s COVID-19 Weekly Outbreak Report shows 40 active COVID-19 outbreaks in senior living communities and congregate living settings, with three or more confirmed cases and one or more COVID-19 related deaths.
State Says Almeda Fire Debris Removal Is About 77% Complete
State-managed crews are working on the process of clearing the ash and debris out of areas in the Almeda corridor.
These were properties that were burnt down during the Almeda fire more than seven months ago.
“Seeing properties cleaned up and the potential for the rebuilding, that’s going to happen over time. That means the world. It means a lot to the communities that we serve, and seeing just properties cleaned up. And we’re really at a point now where we are in the final stages of cleanup,” Kevin Alvarado, spokesman for the Oregon Debris Management Task Force said.
The task force is combined of groups from the Oregon Departments of Transportation, Environmental Quality and Emergency Management.
On Thursday, Alvarado stated that they are about 77% percent through their part of the clean up process.
“So, the state, will be sending property owners in the next coming days a letter that says that property, cleanup has been complete, that soil testing has been complete and, that they are ready to rebuild,” Alvarado added.
Kevin added that once those letters are sent out it will be up to the individual property owners to work their local municipalities to get building permits to start building.
“We’re extremely proud of the work being done by our contractors, the pace of work that they’ve been able to achieve. This is something that we understand. There’s no such thing as fast enough when it comes to getting people back into their homes. However, we constantly see glimmers of fantastic work coming throughout our, from our crews,” Alvarado concluded.
Ballot Measure Did Not Pass to Fund Rural Metro Fire in Josephine County
Nearly two-third’s of rural Josephine County has doesn’t have a fire protection agency available to its residents unless they subscribe to one. Measure 1798 would have established a rural fire district to cover those areas by increasing taxes at a rate of $1.74 per $1,000 dollars of assessed value, set to begin on July first of this year.
Because the measure did not pass, Rural Metro fire cannot receive any grant funding.
The measure was not approved, but if it were, the Josephine Independent Rural Fire Protection District would be formed as an independent district with permanent funding dedicated to fire protection services in the district. It is estimated that this new tax would raise about $6.4 million dollars in the first year.
The bill was created during a year-long study, which then was presented to the county commissioners. The measure was put on the ballot this year during special elections, but a majority of voters opposed it once the dust settled after Tuesday’s special election.
“So as part of the problem that’s existed over the last 50 years, we’re finding more and more times that our services are being given to people who don’t pay for it in advance — kind of like a car insurance. You don’t really want to pay for the car insurance after the car crash, you pay for it in advance so that you just never have to deal with it.” said Austin Prince, Division Chief of Operations for Rural Metro Fire.
The measure will be re-visited again during the next special election. Rural Metro Fire in Josephine County is hoping to inform more people this year about the measure, which the agency believes would help a majority of the county in the long run.
“We want to do so many things for this community, but those things are expensive as well,” Prince continued. “As a private company, we’re not eligible to receive grant money under a public fire district concept. You can get grant money and that eliminates the need for us to raise levies or taxes to go up just so that we can fund a special event or a special service.”
5/20 – Today Last Day for Jackson County Businesses To Apply For SOREDI Grants Funds
The state of Oregon has released funds to the 15 counties that were in the extreme risk category just a few weeks ago. These funds will be going to local businesses that were financially impacted by the Coronavirus pandemic.
Jackson County has received $1.4 million for the SOCARES grant.
Southern Oregon Regional Economy Development Inc. (SOREDI) says if not all of the funds are used, then the money will be returned to the state.
“It is our highest imperative to get all the funds out to businesses. and that’s why we want to make sure that we have sufficient applications received by May 20th,” Collen Padilla, executive director of SOREDI said.
Applications need to be fully completed to be considered and businesses need to be able to show proof. The applications will go through the Jackson County Commissioners for approval.
“Jackson county commissioners have elected to award up to $2,500 per full-time equivalent. That’s going to be based on those quarterly payroll reports,” Padilla said.
The original date for Jackson County business to apply for this grant was today– but, with the time frame to do so being so short and with Tax Day, officials have decided to extend it to help as many local businesses as possible. For More INFO: https://soredi.org/
Rogue River Highway Standoff in Grants Pass
On the afternoon of Tuesday, May 18, 2021, the Grants Pass Department of Public Safety (GPDPS) was contacted by the United States Marshals Service (USMS) and Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) regarding two fugitives believed to be traveling from the state of Washington to Grants Pass, Oregon.
The suspects, 36-year-old Guillermo B. Othon and 26-year-old Cierra B. Larsen, had felony warrants for their arrest out of Thurston County, Washington.
In addition to the no-bail warrants, Othon and Larsen were wanted in connection with a home invasion robbery involving the use of firearms, which also occurred in Washington. Both suspects were considered armed and dangerous and were traveling with their 4-year-old daughter to a residence in the 1800-block of Rogue River Hwy.
Due to the nature of the crimes and the presence of a young juvenile, GPDPS responded with an abundance of caution. Prior to the arrival of the suspects in Grants Pass, the GPDPS Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) Team and Crisis Negotiations Team (CNT) were activated and staged in the area, along with Patrol Officers, Detectives, Administration, Community Service Officers and a K9 Unit. Agents with HSI Medford and Tacoma offices responded and were assisted by US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Air & Marine and Deputy US Marshals. Due to the proximity to the Rogue River, Marine Deputies with the Josephine County Sheriff’s Office responded to assist on the water. Additional aid was provided during this incident by Grants Pass Fire Rescue (GPFR), American Medical Response (AMR) and Oregon Department of Human Services (DHS).
Othon and Larsen arrived in Grants Pass around 6pm. When officers attempted contact, the two fugitives immediately barricaded with their child inside the residence and ignored all commands to come out. They hid from view, but officers could hear pounding noises coming from inside. The occupants of several neighboring residences were evacuated for their safety.
Numerous attempts were made to contact Othon and Larsen by phone and PA system with no response. Diversionary devices were deployed to gain compliance; Othon exited the residence and was detained at 7:30pm. He was later lodged at the Josephine County Jail on the warrant and new charges of Interfering with a Police Officer and Resisting Arrest.
Larsen remained barricaded inside the residence with her daughter. Over the next several hours, negotiators made countless attempts to contact Larsen by phone and PA system. Only one response was received, via text message at 8:34pm, in which Larsen indicated she was not at the residence. Despite repeated pleas for Larsen to give up and to release her daughter, there was no other reply nor sound heard from the residence.
After a search warrant was obtained, and all other options exhausted, members from the GPDPS SWAT Team began a slow and cautious search of the residence. Larsen and her daughter were eventually located hidden beneath a layer of insulation in the attic. The child was rescued from the attic at 1:55am and immediately evaluated by medical personnel before being taken into protective custody. Larsen was detained a few minutes later; she was later lodged at the Josephine County Jail on the warrant, pending local charges.
A small section of Rogue River Hwy was closed for several hours during this incident. During that time, two separate vehicles drove past police barricades, one at 9:26pm and one at 12:53am. These incidents posed a safety risk to the agencies on scene and required additional officers respond to investigate. Both drivers were found to be impaired and arrested for DUII.
Throughout this event, the number one priority for every agency involved was the health and safety of the four-year-old child. City, County, State and Federal agencies all worked together to coordinate a peaceful resolution. The professionalism of each individual involved resulted in the successful rescue of the child, who was found to be uninjured and in good spirits. We would also like to thank the public for their patience, particularly the neighbors who were disturbed by the events and evacuations. – Grants Pass Dept. of Public Safety
AROUND the STATE of OREGON
Oregon Economic Forecast Shows Strong Revenue and Kicker Rebates
Oregon state leaders state that Oregon is on track to bring in an additional $1 billion in tax revenues this budget cycle and could pay out a “kicker” tax rebate of up to $1.4 billion, state economists told lawmakers Wednesday afternoon. It’s a dramatic rebound from the down forecast one year ago.
“Today’s forecast is stunning,” House Speaker Tina Kotek, D-Portland, said in a press release. “A year ago, the world was in a free fall. Oregon’s decisions and investments in the face of converging crises have started an incredibly strong recovery.”
Senate Republicans proclaimed in a press release that “Oregon is swimming in money.” Senate President Peter Courtney described the forecast as “unbelievable.”
Federal aid that poured into Oregon in the form of higher-than-usual unemployment benefits for almost anyone out of a job due to the pandemic, even if they weren’t seeking other work, and assistance for renters, business owners, health care providers and other groups helped lead to the strong economic performance and mammoth taxes projected to pour in from individuals and corporations.
With just six weeks left in the two-year budget cycle that ends in June, lawmakers aren’t expected to spend more than a trickle of the unanticipated $1 billion in the current budget, which is already about $24 billion. So that money will be there to cushion the next state budget from the huge tax write-offs the kicker will provide during that period.
Additionally, economists Mark McMullen and Josh Lehner predicted the state will reap an additional $1 billion more than previously expected in every biennium through 2027.
McMullen noted there is a lot riding on the accuracy of state economists’ revenue estimates for the next two years, because the state’s unique kicker rebate is triggered when tax revenues for a biennium come in more than 2% above economists’ forecast from the start of the cycle. The state must return the full amount above the forecast to taxpayers. He cautioned lawmakers against blowing all the anticipated cash, in case actual revenues turn out to be lower.
“We really have to stick our necks out with an aggressive forecast or we risk giving away the mother of all kickers,” McMullen said. “While this is great for budget-writers, I really implore them that savings going forward is a must.”
Budget writers have until June 27 to wrap up that spending plan and all other legislative business. They already had $2.6 billion from the latest federal aide package to allocate as well.
In press releases, Gov. Kate Brown and Democratic and Republican legislative leaders all spoke about the importance of focusing on one-time spending items rather than establishing new, ongoing commitments and they acknowledged the uncertainty around future revenues. “We must also recognize that the extended tax-filing deadline and delayed information on the federal relief funds have created significant budget uncertainty,” Kotek said. “As we balance the state budget, we must maintain strong reserves to ensure we can adjust as needed.”
“As we near the end of the legislative session, I am urging the Legislature to pass a budget that reflects these investments — a budget Oregon can be proud of and that will continue moving us forward — while at the same time reserving additional general fund dollars,” Brown said.
Oregon taxpayers would receive their share of the kicker as a credit against their 2021 taxes when they file next spring. The size of the rebate would be based on how much tax they paid the state when they filed their 2020 taxes this year. For people whose earnings are within the state’s median adjusted gross income range of $35,000 to $40,000, they would receive a $312 rebate. The top 1% of earners with about $442,000 in income could receive rebates of $12,000.
Rep. Khanh Pham, a Democrat from Portland, said the estimates of rebate sizes by income level illustrated why the rebate, which is enshrined in the state’s constitution, should be reformed or eliminated. The kicker “is just so unequal, so inequitable,” Pham said.
The state’s largest business lobbying group, Oregon Business & Industry, seized on the good economic news to call for lawmakers to end any discussion of raising taxes by scaling back or eliminating breaks this session.
“Lawmakers should immediately close the books on discussions of tax increases in any form,” Oregon Business & Industry president Sandra McDonough wrote in a statement.
Democrats had expressed interest in repealing Oregon’s copycat versions of new federal tax breaks created in 2020, including one that overwhelmingly benefits just the top 1% of earners and another that only applies to businesses with at least $25 million in annual revenue. Some also wanted to eliminate a tax break copied from federal code that allows businesses that received federal Paycheck Protection Program grants to reduce their tax bills by writing off their expenditures of taxpayer money. The momentum to eliminate those breaks fizzled amid repeated positive revenue forecasts, even though those forecasts showed many businesses — with exceptions such as the hospitality industry — rebounded quickly or did well during the pandemic.
Revenue Forecast: Legislature Can Fully Fund the Oregon Health Plan
Becky Hultberg, President and CEO of the Oregon Association of Hospitals and Health Systems, released the following statement on today’s revenue forecast.
“Today’s revenue forecast, which wowed lawmakers and economists alike, shows that the state has more than enough resources to meet its commitments to Oregonians most in need. We are heartened to hear legislative leaders say that they can fund vital priorities this biennium, and that Oregon’s recovery will extend well into future budget cycles. Given the challenges Oregon families have faced due to COVID-19, it is critical to ensure full access to care during this time of uncertainty. We can and should commit to ensuring continued access to health care for the more than 1.2 million Oregonians served by the Oregon Health Plan and to supporting the providers and organizations that care for them.”
About OAHHS: Founded in 1934, OAHHS is a statewide, nonprofit trade association that works closely with local and national government leaders, business and citizen coalitions, and other professional health care organizations to enhance and promote community health and to continue improving Oregon’s innovative health care delivery system. Oregon Assn. of Hosp. and Health Systems (OAHHS)
Oregon Senate Votes To Make Health Care A Right
Oregon voters will decide in November 2022 whether health care is a fundamental right that merits a place in the state constitution. House lawmakers voted 34-23 along party lines on Wednesday to send a constitutional amendment to voters that would ensure every Oregonian has access to cost-effective, clinically appropriate and affordable health care as a human right.
A vote in the House cleared the way for Oregon voters to decide in November 2022 whether health care should be considered a right in the Oregon Constitution. The House passed Senate Joint Resolution 12 on a 34-23 vote along party lines on Wednesday, May 19. The resolution does not require the governor’s signature.
The Oregon Senate on Thursday approved a resolution that would ask voters to decide whether the state is obligated to ensure that every resident has access to affordable health care as a fundamental human right.
The resolution, whose aim is to amend the state Constitution, was approved along party lines, with Democratic senators in favor and Republicans opposed. It next goes to the House in the Democrat-controlled Legislature.
A similar effort in 2018 was approved by the House but it died in committee in the Senate. If it had been put on the ballot and approved by voters, it would have been the first constitutional amendment in any state to create a fundamental right to healthcare.
“Every Oregonian deserves access to cost-effective and clinically appropriate health care,” said Senate Majority Leader Rob Wagner. “Oregon’s Constitution should reflect that truth.”
If the House passes the bill, voters would be asked to consider amending the state’s 162-year-old Constitution.
Republicans said any promise to ensure all Oregonians are entitled to health care lacks financial backing.
Oregon’s uninsured adults are estimated at 6% of the population. Most children are now covered.
Ballot-Initiative Efforts To Move Eastern Oregon Counties To Idaho Gains Momentum
Five eastern Oregon counties voted Tuesday in favor of considering becoming part of Idaho. Baker, Grant, Lake, Malheur and Sherman counties join Union and Jefferson, which voted last year to require county officials to study or promote joining Idaho.
Grant voted 1,471 to 895 for county officials “to meet and discuss relocating Idaho border.”
Lake voted 1,341 to 463 for the “relocation of Idaho border” to be taken up in “county board of commissioners meetings.”
Malheur voted 3,050 to 2,572 for “county court meetings regarding relocation of Oregon-Idaho border.”
Sherman voted 429 to 260 in favor of “promoting moving Oregon-Idaho border.”
Baker County results are not yet available from the Oregon Secretary of State’s Office.
The group Move Oregon’s Border for a Greater Idaho is hoping Gov. Kate Brown’s statewide stay-at-home order won’t derail for long its newly launched signature-gathering effort in Josephine County.
The grassroots group Move Oregon’s Border for a Greater Idaho wants to flip Oregon’s mostly rural eastern and southern counties — plus a few northern counties in California — into Idaho, believing they’d be better off in Idaho’s more conservative political environment. It’s hoping that political pressure from county initiative votes will lead to negotiations between Oregon and Idaho to move the border between the two states, putting up to 22 of Oregon’s 36 counties in Idaho.
“This election proves that rural Oregon wants out of Oregon,” lead petitioner Mike McCarter said in a statement. “If Oregon really believes in liberal values such as self-determination, the Legislature won’t hold our counties captive against our will. If we’re allowed to vote for which government officials we want, we should be allowed to vote for which government we want as well.”
The signature-gathering effort “to gain political refuge from blue states” was hampered last year due to the coronavirus pandemic, but it’s now picking up some momentum. Several prominent elected officials in Idaho, including Gov. Brad Little, have expressed support for the movement.
Despite the many significant jurisdictional, economic and bureaucratic issues that a new border would involve, Move Oregon’s Border for a Greater Idaho says the movement has spurred a passionate response, noting that the average turnout in the counties that voted on the issue in the May 2021 special elections was nearly twice as high as in other Oregon counties.
Moving Oregon counties into Idaho remains a long shot, for no matter how many Oregon counties say they want to be part of Idaho, the two state legislatures — and ultimately the U.S. Congress — would have to give their approval.
Oregon Parks and Recreation Dept – Keep your camping trips safe and memorable with these campfire tips
Many of us enjoy a campfire because it evokes memories of past camping trips with family and friends. We sit around the fire and talk, laugh and enjoy the company. The warmth of the moments rivals the heat from the campfire.
Consider ways to build a safe campfire as you start your summer camping preparations. Also, keep in mind that our drier than normal spring weather is a concern for Oregon and the West. Be sure to research conditions for the area near where you’re camping before you head out. Fire restrictions may be in place at the park, county or state level. The Oregon State Parks website will post the latest information about campfires in state parks.
“Regularly reviewing campfire safety practices, even if you’re a seasoned camper, is a good habit,” said Chris Havel, Oregon Parks and Recreation Department (OPRD) associate director. “It’s especially important if you’re camping with children or folks that are learning about responsible outdoor recreation. If you have a question or a concern, talk with a park ranger or camp host.”
OPRD offers the following tips for a safe and enjoyable campfire, and to continue the tradition of great camping memories for everyone.
- Maintain campfire flames at knee height, or roughly two feet high. A smaller flame helps prevent ash and embers from rising into the trees or dry vegetation. If you see the wind stirring up embers, play it safe and put the fire out.
- Only build campfires in the existing fire ring in your campsite. Fire rings are placed in areas with buffer zones and away from vegetation.
- Always keep plenty of water nearby so you can use it to safely put out the campfire. Drown the flames with water and carefully stir the embers to make sure everything is wet. The stirring step is important: ash and wood debris often maintain heat and embers unless they are drowned out.
- Beach campfires should be on open sand and away from driftwood or vegetation. Slowly pour water on your beach fire to put it out. Don’t pour the water too quickly because hot sand can fly up and hit anyone nearby. Also, don’t use sand to put out a beach fire. Covering the fire with sand will insulate the coals, keeping them hot enough to burn someone hours or even days later.
- For propane fire rings, follow the same safety precautions you would with a log-based campfire. The use of propane fire rings may vary statewide, depending on local conditions.
- Make sure everyone in your campsite is familiar with campfire safety, including children. Always keep an eye on your campfire; many accidental fires are started because campers left their fire unattended for “just a minute.”
During May, the Oregon Department of Forestry, the Oregon Office of State Fire Marshal, the Office of Emergency Management, Keep Oregon Green, the U.S. Forest Service, OPRD and other federal, state and local emergency and response agencies are promoting programs and messages encouraging the public to work together in their local communities to prevent the risk of wildfire.