Rogue Valley News, Thursday 6/24 – Stay Safe During Record Heat Wave, Housing Stability Council Awards Funding for Talent Housing

The latest news stories of interest in the Rogue Valley and around the state of Oregon from the digital home of Southern Oregon, Wynne Broadcasting’s RogueValleyMagazine.com

Thursday, June 24, 2021

Rogue Valley Weather

Excessive Heat Warning in effect from June 26, 11:00 AM PDT until June 29, 11:00 PM PDT

Today– Sunny and hot, with a high near 96. Calm wind becoming north northwest 5 to 7 mph in the afternoon.

Friday– Sunny and hot, with a high near 99. Calm wind becoming north northwest around 5 mph in the afternoon.

Saturday– Sunny and hot, with a high near 108. Calm wind becoming northwest around 5 mph in the afternoon.

Sunday– Sunny and hot, with a high near 112.

Monday– Sunny and hot, with a high near 105.

Record-Breaking Heat Possible This Weekend and Early Next Week

Dangerously hot conditions are possible with daily record high temperatures expected.

COVID UPDATES

Oregon reports 233 new confirmed and presumptive COVID-19 cases, 2 new deaths

There are two new COVID-19 related deaths in Oregon, raising the state’s death toll to 2,759. The Oregon Health Authority reported 233 new confirmed and presumptive cases of COVID-19 bringing the state total to 207,333.

The new confirmed and presumptive COVID-19 cases reported today are in the following counties: Baker (7), Benton (4), Clackamas (14), Columbia (3), Coos (8), Crook (3), Curry (5), Deschutes (14), Douglas (11), Grant (1), Harney (2), Hood River (1), Jackson (18), Jefferson (4), Josephine (6), Lane (13), Lincoln (3), Linn (14), Malheur (2), Marion (29), Morrow (2), Multnomah (27), Polk (8), Umatilla (7), Union (1), Wasco (10), Washington (12), Yamhill (4).

Weekly COVID-19 cases and deaths decrease; hospitalizations rise

The Oregon Health Authority’s COVID-19 Weekly Report, released today, shows decreases in daily cases and an increase in hospitalizations from the previous week.

OHA reported 1,697 new daily cases of COVID-19 during the week of Monday, June 14, through Sunday, June 20. That represents a 4.7% decline from the previous week and the lowest weekly case count in nine months.

However, new COVID-19 related hospitalizations rose from 152 to 161.

There were 26 reported COVID-19 related deaths, down from 36 reported the previous week.

There were 68,601 tests for COVID-19 for the week of June 13 through June 19. The percentage of positive tests was 3.3%, down from 4.0% the prior week.

People 70 years of age and older have accounted for 38% of COVID-19 related hospitalizations and 74% of COVID-19 related deaths.

Today’s COVID-19 Weekly Outbreak Report shows 21 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.

Vaccinations in Oregon

Today, OHA reported that 8,306 new doses of COVID-19 vaccinations were added to the state immunization registry. Of this total, 4,465 doses were administered on June 22 and 3,841 were administered on previous days but were entered into the vaccine registry on June 22.

The seven-day running average is now 10,112 doses per day.

Oregon has now administered 2,447,918 first and second doses of Pfizer,1,712,278 first and second doses of Moderna and 163,958 single doses of Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccines.

As of today, 2,360,737 people have had at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and 2,115,776 have completed a COVID-19 vaccine series. The number of adult Oregonians needing vaccinations to reach the 70% threshold is 38,143. A daily countdown can be found on the OHA vaccinations page.  

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, 2,946,375 doses of Pfizer, 2,221,000 doses of Moderna and 299,100 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.

COVID-19 hospitalizations

The number of hospitalized patients with COVID-19 across Oregon is 155, which is nine more than yesterday. There are 34 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 1,039, which is an 11.4% decrease from the previous seven days. The peak daily number of beds occupied by COVID-19 positive patients in the most recent seven days is 155.

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.

LOCAL HEADLINES:

Stay Safe During Record Heat Wave

According to Weather.gov, “A record-breaking and dangerous heat wave is coming to the West,” and will affect most of Oregon later this week and through this weekend. A strong high pressure over the Pacific Northwest will bring unseasonably hot weather beginning Friday and lasting through next Monday. Temperatures will be 20 to 30 degrees above normal for this time of year, and will remain hot overnight, which will limit relief from the heat and contribute to increased risk of heat related illness.

Temperatures are forecast to climb to record levels, but you can stay cool, use less energy and save money with these tips from Pacific Power

With triple-digit temperatures forecast throughout the Northwest over the next several days, Pacific Power wants to remind customers how to beat the heat, use less energy and save money.

Be air conditioner smart

  • Set your thermostat at 78 degrees. Cooling your house below that temperature can increase your air conditioning bill as much as 8 percent.
  • Don’t turn off the air conditioner when you’re gone; instead set it at 85 degrees. That setting allows your air conditioner to use less electricity to cool the house than if the air conditioning has been off all day.
  • Use a smart or programmable thermostat to automatically adjust the temperature around your schedule. Set it to start bringing your home’s temperature from 85 degrees down to 78 degrees no more than 30 minutes before you get home.

Don’tlet the sun shine in

  • On warm days, close blinds and drapes, especially in south-facing windows which allow in the most heat.

Open windows and circulate cool air

  • Open windows in evening and early morning to let in cool air.
  • Use fans to bring in and circulate cool air. Ceiling and window fans use much less electricity than air conditioning. Running an air conditioner in fan-only mode can also be effective as outside temperatures drop.

Reduce the heat inside

  • Use heat-producing appliances like ovens, dishwashers and dryers in the early morning or late evening when temperatures are cooler.
  • Use a microwave, slow cooker or toaster oven. A toaster oven uses one-third to one-half as much energy as a regular oven and releases less heat into the home.
  • Turn off heat-generating devices when not in use, including lamps, televisions and computers.

Be safe. With sweltering temperatures, you need to protect yourself. Drink plenty of water and stay out of the sun as much as possible. Also check on any neighbors who may have limited contact with others and may need a fan or other assistance.

Heat waves are something Pacific Power experiences each year. From a power supply perspective, we do not anticipate heat-related service interruptions during this current heat wave. In addition to regular maintenance and equipment upgrades, Pacific Power, as part of PacifiCorp, can access a diverse mix of available energy resources – solar, wind, hydro and thermal – which is key to fulfilling our promise of reliability and stability.

The company owns and operates over 16,500 miles of high-voltage transmission across 10 states. That reach is essential in accessing available energy and delivering it to our customers. Still, extreme weather–either summer heat or winter storms–has the potential to produce localized outages. So we’re closely monitoring the system and will respond promptly if an outage of any nature occurs.

If you are concerned about your power bill, call us now. We can set up a payment plan or refer you to local agencies for bill assistance. Call us any time at 1-888-221-7070.

ABOUT PACIFIC POWER

Pacific Power provides safe and reliable electric service to more than 783,000 customers in
243 communities across Oregon, Washington and California. Pacific Power is part of PacifiCorp, one of the lowest-cost electricity producers in the United States, serving nearly two million customers in six western states as the largest regulated utility owner of wind power in the West. For more information, visit www.pacificpower.net.

Housing Stability Council Awards Funding for Talent Housing

Local Innovation and Fast Track (LIFT)

Record number of projects approved for affordable development across Oregon

Additionally, to be responsive to the serious housing shortages resulting from the 2020 Oregon wildfires, two projects received additional application points for projects in the Federal Declared Disaster Areas, including one in Jackson County.

“The destruction in Jackson County was unimaginable and the disruption to people’s lives even worse,” said Daryn Murphy, Vice President of Development at Commonwealth Development Corporation. “Being able to move this project along quickly will be a step in the right direction in getting survivors rehoused, but there is a lot of work ahead. The LIFT funding is an important tool to make projects like this happen and the state’s priority on impacted areas shows their commitment to rebuilding places like Talent and Phoenix.

Jackson County: Renaissance Flats, City of Talent: $7.56M          72 Homes

Oregon Housing and Community Services (OHCS) announces a record number of funding has been awarded at the June Housing Stability Council meeting including the latest round of Local Innovation and Fast Track (LIFT) and Permanent Supportive Housing (PSH) Program funding.

“This funding could not have come at a better time,” said Oregon Housing and Community Services Director, Margaret Salazar. “As our state turns toward economic recovery from COVID and wildfires, we know that housing is a critical part of our infrastructure. Housing is a basic human need and I am grateful to Governor Kate Brown and the legislature for these resources. Going forward, thousands of Oregon families will have a safe, dry, and affordable place to call home.”

Earlier this month the Oregon Housing Stability Council, which reviews and sets policy for the development and financing of affordable housing, approved a variety of housing resources focused on communities throughout the state. These awards come at a time when OHCS has received a record amount of funding for the prevention of homelessness and housing instability in Oregon. These awards will add needed affordable housing supply across Oregon.

LIFT Rental Awards

Since the launch in 2016, the LIFT program has helped thousands of underserved Oregonians attain keys in their pockets and a roof over their heads. The program focuses on serving historically underserved Oregonians, including communities of color in both urban and rural communities. The Housing Stability Council approved all 12 recommended LIFT Rental Award applications from across the state including five from rural communities. All together, these projects will create 1,153 new affordable homes in with awards totaling $70.3 million.

2 Arrested for Bias Crime in Ashland

On May 13, 2021 Ashland Police Department (APD) officers responded to the AM/PM gas station at 2380 Ashland Street on a report of an assault in progress. The investigation indicated that two white men, listed below, had assaulted an African American male gas station attendant while using racist language.

APD detectives took over the investigation of the case and identified the suspects as Pierce and Sutton, listed below. The investigation substantiated that Pierce and Sutton’s action constituted a bias crime under Oregon law.

Detectives were able to secure an indictment against both men, who have since been arrested on the following crimes:

Bias Crime 1st Degree – felony

Bias Crime 2nd Degree

Disorderly conduct 2nd Degree

Assault 3rd Degree

Harassment

The Ashland Police Department has held this incident back as to not alert the suspects that they were being investigated, and until indictments had been secured and the suspects arrested, which recently occurred.

The indicted suspects are identified as Caleb Pierce, 23 years old of Fort Jones CA and Scott Sutton, 32 years of Yreka CA.

The Ashland Police Department will vigorously investigate any bias crimes that are brought to its attention, and will, with the District Attorney’s office, pursue all possible charges given the evidence at hand. Ashland Police Dept.

AROUND the STATE of OREGON

Labor Shortage in Oregon

QualityInfo

On the heels of the pandemic, there was the labor shortage, with businesses reporting struggles to find enough applicants to fill posted jobs.

But for some jobs, finding the right applicants is nothing new. Researchers with the Oregon Employment Department surveyed 14,000 employers in 2020 and found that out of 44,400 job openings, 22,800 were considered by employers as difficult to fill.

With high unemployment during the pandemic, that share was lower compared with past years. The percentage of job vacancies considered hard to fill was 57% in 2019, down from a peak of 64% of vacancies in 2016 and 2017.

According to OED economist Jessica Nelson’s analysis of the findings, the hard-to-fill-jobs had better average pay than other positions (by more than $2.50 an hour) and were more likely to require previous experience.

“With the constantly evolving business restrictions in 2020, along with worker availability that was limited by concerns over the virus and school and child care closures, employers may have needed to offer higher wages or other benefits to find the experienced candidates they were seeking,” Nelson wrote.

Using OED findings, we compiled Oregon’s most difficult to fill jobs in 2020, based on the number of openings and the percentage of openings in the occupation considered difficult by employers.

In general, more remote areas of the state had more difficulty filling job vacancies than metro-dominated regions in 2020. Eastern Oregon had the highest share of difficult-to-fill vacancies at 70%. Employers in several regions reported difficulty filling more than six out of 10 job openings, including Southwestern Oregon (68%), Northwest Oregon (67%), the Rogue Valley (65%), and Lane County (62%). Portland-Metro had the smallest share of difficult-to-fill openings at 33%, followed by Clackamas County at 49%.

Jobless Claims Declining In Oregon and Nationwide

The number of Americans applying for unemployment benefits dropped last week, a sign that layoffs declined and the job market is improving. The Labor Department said Thursday that jobless claims declined just 7,000 from the previous week to 411,000. The number of weekly applications for unemployment aid has fallen steadily this year from about 900,000 in January. The level of unemployment claims generally reflects the pace of layoffs.

Oregon tallied just over 5,000 new claims for regular unemployment benefits last week, according to the latest federal data. That’s about 25% higher than the weeks before the pandemic started in 2020, but it’s the lowest count since fresh lockdowns began in November amid a surge in COVID-19 cases.

And the number of Oregonians receiving unemployment benefits has plunged in recent weeks, suggesting workers are returning to the job in large numbers.

With many employers desperate to hire, some states are starting to cut off several pandemic-related unemployment aid programs in response to business complaints that the assistance is making it harder for them to find workers. Starting this month, 26 states will end an extra $300 weekly federal unemployment payment and 22 of those states will also cut off all jobless assistance to self-employed, gig workers, and those out of work more than six months. The extra $300 ends nationwide Sept. 6.

Oregon officials say they won’t cut off the extra aid, though they are beginning to push benefits recipients back to the labor force. Workers must actively resume their job search by the end of July, and they must register to participate in a skills matching program before then.

The Oregon Employment Department said Wednesday that 4,000 workers failed to register for that program last week. They will lose their benefits if they don’t register soon.

Economists at Bank of America have estimated that those who earned less than $32,000 a year at their previous jobs can receive more in jobless aid with the extra $300. At the same time, the federal expansions of unemployment benefits have made it possible for millions of self-employed and contract workers who were previously not eligible for help to receive aid for the first time.

Four states — Alaska, Iowa, Mississippi, and Missouri — stopped providing the $300 payment last week. All but Alaska also cut off the two programs that covered the self-employed and the long-term jobless.

Oregon State Police Joins Forces To Put The Brakes On Excessive Speeding

Drivers stayed off the roads in droves during the pandemic. Unfortunately, those who did drive were the cause of a steep rise in roadway deaths, with the excess speed at the heart of many crashes. The Western States Traffic Safety Coalition (WSTSC) members came together to show commitment and emphasis on meaningful public education about the dangers of risky driving behaviors, especially excessive speeding.

The WSTSC Coalition includes the following members from Arizona Department of Public Safety, California Highway Patrol, Colorado State Patrol, Idaho State Police, Montana Highway Patrol, Nevada Highway Patrol, North Dakota Highway Patrol, South Dakota Highway Patrol, Utah Highway Patrol, Washington State Patrol, Wyoming Highway Patrol, and #YourOregonStatePolice.

WSTSC

Excess speed is a major factor contributing to serious injury and fatal crashes for drivers of all ages, along with speeding-related vehicle rollovers. As the nation opens up, summer vacations begin and more people hit the roads, law enforcement will be proactive in helping bring speeds and subsequent crashes down. 

Excessive speed has a devastating impact on the safety of life for those traveling on our highways. To help address this issue, the WSTSC will be conducting an Excessive Speed Enforcement Safety Campaign this June 25 – 27, 2021. Assertive traffic law enforcement activity with a targeted public safety focus is the purpose of the WSTSC partnership and this campaign. The WSTSC encourages everyone to plan ahead and allow plenty of time to arrive at your destination safely to avoid feeling the need to speed.

The WSTSC hopes you choose to join us in achieving the goal of zero deaths due to excessive speeds, especially over the #FourthofJuly holiday. #SlowYourRoll #WSTSC #HighwaySafety

Coos Bay Man Sentenced to 30 Years for Sexually Exploiting a 3-Year-Old Child

A Coos Bay, Oregon man was sentenced to federal prison today for producing sexually explicit images and videos of a 3-year-old child.

Keith James Atherton, 33, was sentenced to 30 years in federal prison followed by a life term of supervised release.

According to court documents, on July 13, 2018, an undercover agent from Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) viewed child sexual abuse material streamed on a video chat website. Less than 24 hours later, Atherton was identified as the perpetrator, located, and taken into federal custody. Further investigation revealed that Atherton had produced several sexually explicit images and videos involving a 3-year-old child.

Investigators seized more than 10 digital devices from Atherton, containing at least 35,000 images and 8,000 videos depicting the sexual abuse of infants, toddlers, and young children.

A federal grand jury in Eugene, Oregon returned a three-count indictment charging Atherton with using or attempting to use a minor to produce a visual depiction of sexually explicit conduct and possession and distribution of child pornography. On February 24, 2021, Atherton pleaded guilty to using or attempting to use a minor to produce a visual depiction of sexually explicit conduct.

Acting U.S. Attorney Scott Erik Asphaug of the District of Oregon made the announcement.

This case was investigated by Homeland Security Investigations with assistance from the Coos Bay Police Department, the Coos County Sheriff’s Office and the Oregon State Police. Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeffrey S. Sweet prosecuted the case with assistance from the Coos County District Attorney’s Office.

Anyone who has information about the physical or online exploitation of children are encouraged to contact HSI at (866) 347-2423 or submit a tip online at www.ice.gov/tips.

Drought Affecting Oregon’s Wheat Industry

Record-breaking drought conditions have consumed much of Eastern Oregon. Wheat industry experts say meager precipitation stretching back through the spring of 2020, coupled with high overall temperatures, have all but assured a challenging year for farmers.

“It’s an exceptionally dry year,” said Larry Lutcher, an extension agronomist for Oregon State University based out of Morrow County, adding, “It’s too late for most of the wheat in Morrow County.”

Luther said the crop-year precipitation in Morrow County ranges from roughly 4 to 6 inches — about half of the region’s long-term average. And a late-season rain would do little to help now, he said.

“Most folks are disappointed that our yield potential will be much less than average,” Lutcher said.

“For us, things aren’t as bad as other drier areas,” said Emery Gentry, Umatilla County president of the Oregon Wheat Growers League, who farms on the foothills of the Blue Mountains near Weston. “But it’s definitely a poorer year for us too. Typically we rely on rains in April and May. And it’s June. And the amount of rain we got is just dismal compared to what we would normally expect.”

The month of March was the sixth driest on record in Pendleton and the second driest in Hermiston. In April, conditions hardly improved, with Pendleton reporting the seventh driest month on record and Hermiston the third driest, according to the National Weather Service in Pendleton.

A May 2021 climate summary from the National Weather Service in Pendleton said many stations throughout Northeastern Oregon and Southeastern Washington reported conditions from March through May that ranked in the top 10 driest three-month periods on record, and some stations reported the driest three-month period on record.

Gov. Kate Brown already declared a state of drought emergency in Jefferson, Deschutes, Crook, Harney, Malheur, Sherman, Wallowa, Lake, Jackson and Klamath counties. In April, Umatilla County declared a drought and asked Brown to follow suit.

“Basically, between February and now, we have not had any substantial rain in a good segment of the state,” said Amanda Hoey, the chief executive officer for the Oregon Wheat Growers League and Oregon Wheat Commission. “The crop conditions have certainly declined. We have a lot of wheat in fair condition, very little that’s in good or excellent condition.”

Hoey said farmers statewide are voicing concerns over the conditions.

“I don’t think anybody is expecting to see anything that is above average, for certain,” she said. “Average would be ambitious. We’re probably looking at below-average overall.”

But average wheat prices have remained strong throughout the year, experts say, ranging from about $7 to more than $8 per bushel. Hoey said new international trade agreements with places such as China have bolstered the sale of soft white wheat this year, as the majority of wheat grown in Oregon is exported internationally.

But a meager crop this year will impact the region’s economy regardless, Hoey added.

“As an industry, agriculture has a huge ripple effect down the supply chain,” she said. “You need to have a healthy agriculture industry to have a healthy economy overall. We’re resilient. I will say, it will be an extraordinarily tough year with what we have out there.”

Oregon Senate Approves Bill for Local Sales Tax Hike on Marijuana Consumers

green cannabis leaves and black glass drops bottle

On June 23, 2021, the Oregon Senate approved on a vote of 23-6 a measure, SB 864, that if passed by the House of Representatives and signed by Governor Kate Brown will allow cities and counties to raise their portion of the sales tax on marijuana items sold in recreational dispensaries from 3%, as allowed under current law, to 10%. This means that the total tax applied at the time of sale could increase from 20% to 27%, representing a 35% tax hike to Oregon recreational cannabis consumers.

While the bill, if it becomes law, will not automatically result in a tax increase, it will allow the governing bodies of cities and counties to raise the marijuana sales tax within their own jurisdictions, much like current law. However, if past experience is predictive, it is nearly certain that most or all local governments will take the necessary steps to enact the tax increase. Customers who present current, valid OMMP cards at the time of sale will continue to be exempt from this tax.

The measure now moves to the House for consideration and based on the vote in the Senate is likely to pass unless constituents make their voices heard in opposition. If you’d like to make your voice heard, you can use this online tool to look up your representative. The legislative session is set to expire on Sunday, June 27, 2021, so time is of the essence.

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