Rogue Valley News, Wednesday 8/18 – Critical Care Units in Local Hospitals Over Capacity, Suspicious Death Leads to Search Warrant Executed on Illegal Marijuana Operation in Kerby

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

Wednesday, August 18, 2021

Rogue Valley Weather 

Today– Widespread smoke, mainly between 11am and 5pm. Sunny, with a high near 84. Calm wind becoming northwest around 6 mph in the afternoon.

Thursday– Areas of smoke. Sunny, with a high near 86. Calm wind becoming northwest 5 to 7 mph in the afternoon.

Friday– Mostly sunny, with a high near 85. North northwest wind around 5 mph.

Saturday– Sunny, with a high near 85.

Sunday– Sunny, with a high near 88.

Critical Care Units in Local Hospitals Over Capacity

As coronavirus hospitalizations continue to rise beyond critical levels, hospital administrators in Southern Oregon are looking at every possible contingency to continue accepting patients and meet the dire need.

Asante Three Rivers Medical Center added a tent out in front of the emergency department. Hospital officials said that the pavilion is open during the peak hours of the day for emergency patients with lower-acuity needs, like sprains and minor stitches, to reserve the indoor area for more critical cases.

According to senior administrators at the hospital, the tent is just the tip of the iceberg. Asante Three Rivers is licensed for 125 beds. When hospitalizations started reaching that limit, Asante lobbied the Oregon Health Authority to issue emergency licensing, expanding that capacity to 177 beds.

The hospital’s traditional 12-bed critical care unit is now a 20-bed unit dedicated to COVID-19 patients. Another area has been converted into a separate 12-bed critical care unit for other patients. There are also 10 patients in a “non-traditional” inpatient area, and more areas of the hospital are being retrofitted to meet the surge.

Though they’ve been able to meet the need for beds thus far, staffing levels continue to be another barrier that cannot be remedied by similar ad hoc means. Some physicians are being pulled from their normal duties to perform care outside of their field of specialty, and administrators are trying to pull in as many traveling physicians or “locums” as they can get.

“This is a full-blown healthcare crisis,” said Win Howard, CEO and senior vice-president at Asante Three Rivers. “I’ve been in a healthcare leadership role for 25 years. I have never experienced anything like this before. This is, I want to be clear, this is an absolute crisis.”

Howard confirmed that Three Rivers has been canceling elective surgeries for a matter of weeks, amounting to hundreds of procedures, so that the hospital can meet the needs of patients in a medical emergency. However, just because these surgeries are elective does not mean that they are cosmetic. Canceled procedures include hernia repairs, orthopedic surgeries, carotid surgeries, and surgeries to remove cancer.

“The list goes on and on, and these aren’t things that would traditionally be thought of as elective in all cases,” Howard said. “I talked to one of the surgeons, they had to call several patients and say ‘I have to delay your cancer surgery because we have such a surge of patient volume, and I can’t even tell you when I can reschedule that.’ It broke her heart, and she also thought how difficult it would be for that patient to get that call.”

Howard said that Asante is also on the verge of needing to obtain refrigeration units to serve as mobile morgues, potentially within a matter of days.

As bad as things are for Asante right now, Howard said that things are likely to get worse. Coronavirus modeling produced by OHSU, which has so far tracked the progression with relative accuracy, does not anticipate that cases and hospitalizations will peak until the beginning of September.

On Tuesday morning, Howard joined five other health professionals in a briefing on the current COVID-19 outlook for the Josephine County Board of Commissioners. Howard said that they asked the Commissioners to support masking, support social distancing, and encourage constituents to talk to their medical providers about getting a COVID-19 vaccine.

“That was our ask, and we asked them to be ‘a voice of one’ around that,” Howard said. “That was the purpose of meeting with them, and for them to understand the seriousness of where we are as a community at this point. So, I think it was clear — we got the message across, I think they heard us, and we’ll see how they respond.”

Suspicious Death Leads to Search Warrant Executed on Illegal Marijuana Cultivation Operation in Kerby

More than a dozen local, state, and federal agencies and task forces participated in the pre-dawn raid on Tuesday, serving search warrants at Q-Bar-X Ranch near Kerby. Sheriff Daniel said that the search uncovered about 200,000 marijuana plants within more than 400 hoop-houses spread across the 1,300 acre property.

Earlier this month, the death of a man dropped off at the Chevron in Cave Junction led the Josephine County Sheriff’s Office to investigate a huge illegal marijuana grow in the Illinois Valley showing apparent evidence of human trafficking and involuntary servitude, according to Sheriff Dave Daniel.

News conference with Sheriff Daniel

About two weeks ago, Daniel said, a Hispanic man was dropped off at the Caves Chevron. He was already in poor condition and “very near death,” and he passed away while being taken to the hospital. While the Sheriff was reluctant to provide further details about the investigation into the grow site, he indicated that the death was a contributing factor. The man’s cause of death has yet to be determined.

Sheriff Daniel said that about 130 workers, mostly men, had been detained for questioning at the properties, and he highlighted squalid working and living conditions discovered during the search. He said that no suspects have yet been placed under arrest, and arrests “might not even happen today” as the investigation continues.

“At this point the workers are being treated as victims,” Daniel said.

Investigators are currently anticipating about four arrests, with the goal of capturing the “masterminds” of the grow.

In addition to federal authorities, agencies involved in the raid included some as distant as Deschutes County and Eugene. Sheriff Daniel said that his agency put out a request for help due to the size of the operation, bringing in 10 different SWAT teams to help the Josephine County Sheriff’s Office, which does not have a team of its own. Meanwhile, Homeland Security Investigations provided interpreters to aid in the investigation.

Federal agents served a warrant for suspected humanitarian crimes while local law enforcement searched for cultivation of illegal marijuana. In all, about 250 law enforcement officers were involved in the raid.

In addition to the unlawful production of marijuana investigation, areas of investigation are also involuntary servitude, human trafficking, forced labor, and several issues pertaining to working conditions and human rights.  An investigative operation of this magnitude takes time and is ongoing as of the time of this release.  As a result, no further details can be provided until the operation is completed.  Josephine Co. Sheriff’s Office

Oregon reports 2,941 new confirmed and presumptive COVID-19 cases, 15 new deaths

There are 15 new COVID-19 related deaths in Oregon, raising the state’s death toll to 2,964. The Oregon Health Authority reported 2,941 new confirmed and presumptive cases of COVID-19 bringing the state total to 245,758.  The 2,941 cases reported today includes new cases that were reported to some counties over the weekend.

The new confirmed and presumptive COVID-19 cases reported today are in the following counties: Baker (3), Benton (29), Clackamas (151), Clatsop (36), Columbia (71), Coos (76), Crook (27), Curry (8), Deschutes (94), Douglas (300), Gilliam (6), Harney (14), Hood River (12), Jackson (247), Jefferson (11), Josephine (110), Klamath (52), Lane (253), Lincoln (42), Linn (110), Malheur (39), Marion (363), Morrow (11), Multnomah (145), Polk (43), Tillamook (27), Umatilla (84), Union (40), Wallowa (4), Wasco (25), Washington (420) and Yamhill (88).

838 Oregonians hospitalized with COVID-19 and 222 in ICUs, plus those hospitalized for other serious illnesses and injuries, 93% of our hospital beds and 90% of our ICU beds are full.

Governor Brown Calls on Schools Not to Jeopardize Return to Full-Time, In-Person Instruction for Oregon Students by Defying Mask Requirements

Governor Brown called on Oregon superintendents, school board members and education leaders to not “jeopardize” the return to full-time in-person learning this fall by violating the state’s indoor mask requirements. Most school districts in the state are moving forward with health and safety plans to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.

Brown issued a letter Tuesday in response to “troubling statements and actions from local school leaders indicating they would ignore state law.” Some school boards have passed or are considering resolutions against Oregon’s K-12 indoor mask requirements that were announced last month, according to the governor’s office.

In her letter, Brown states one district leader sent a letter to parents urging them to make false claims on behalf of their children under the Americans with Disabilities Act to avoid mask requirements. The governor is calling on school districts to reject taking actions that defy state and federal laws and to take action to protect students’ health and safety instead.

“Because that’s the thing about masks: they don’t just protect you, they protect everyone around you. Wearing a mask is an act of kindness. By wearing masks, we are teaching our children that they can protect each other in the classroom. That we can all work together to keep each other safe. When I visited classrooms this spring, I saw children who were overjoyed to be with their friends and teachers again. For them, safety protocols were not a burden but a benefit, giving them a reprieve from virtual classrooms and isolation from their peers,” Brown said in the open letter.

Brown continued: “I have heard much about personal freedom when it comes to masks in school board meetings and on social media. I have not heard as much said about personal responsibility. As leaders, we have a great responsibility to our students and their futures. One of the sacred, fundamental responsibilities of a school district and its leaders is to keep the children in their care safe. It is up to us to make clear-eyed decisions based on science and fact. Flouting mask requirements will put everything we have worked towards in the last year at risk. Without the universal wearing of masks in our schools, the Delta variant will spread.”

Cases and hospitalizations from the virus have increased dramatically in the state over the past few weeks. On Monday, the Oregon Health Authority reported there were 752 people hospitalized with COVID-19 across the state, with 206 of those patients in intensive care unit beds.

The governor’s office said the current indoor mask requirement can be enforced by Oregon OSHA under state law.

Wildfires in Oregon and Washington have already burned 20 times more land this year than last.  The Northwest Interagency Coordination Center is reporting over one-million charred acres in the two state’s this year.  By contrast, over 52-thousand acres were destroyed in 2020.  

In that time span, the number of wildfires also doubled, with 37 fires last year and 77 this year, through August 15. Included in that total is the Bootleg Fire in Southern Oregon, which burned more than 413-thousand acres, making it
the largest wildfire in the country before final containment early this week.

—- Cooler temperatures and improved relative humidity over the past day helped moderate fire behavior.

Expect lingering showers and maybe a few thunderstorms along the eastern edge of the region today, with seasonable temperature and humidity across the region. General winds should be lighter today, but a little breezy from the north in central and eastern Oregon.

Tomorrow brings little change from today with rather benign weather. An upper-level trough should move into the region Friday and Saturday, boosting chances for showers and thundershowers over the weekend primarily for northern Washington. Warmer weather appears to be coming by the middle of next week.

Potential for new significant fires remains at or below seasonal normal levels for the next few days due to cool, moist conditions. Though lighter than the last few days, breezy winds today could present control challenges and boost growth potential for ongoing incidents.

—— Firefighters are well supplied and supported with equipment and food. We cannot accept donations to the firefighters. To support all firefighters, we recommend donating to the Wildland Firefighters Foundation which supports firefighters and families – https://wffoundation.org/. We also suggest that donations of food and other items be made to support the local community at your local food bank or Red Cross shelter.

Here are links to be able to see updated info on the larger fires in Oregon:

Oregon’s Unemployment Rate Drops to 5.2% in July as Oregon Adds 20,000 Jobs

Oregon’s unemployment rate dropped to 5.2% in July from 5.6% in June. July was the 15th consecutive monthly decline in Oregon’s unemployment rate. The reduction in the unemployment rate accelerated over the past two months with a 0.2 percentage point drop in June followed by a 0.4 point drop in July. These improvements followed slow declines of 0.1 point per month in each of the first five months of 2021.

Oregon’s July unemployment rate declined dramatically from its high of 13.2% in April 2020, at the peak of the last recession, to 5.2% in July. However, the state’s unemployment rate is still moderately above the period of record low rates in the years prior to the pandemic. During January 2017 through March 2020, Oregon’s unemployment rate was fairly steady, averaging 3.9%.

For the past several years, Oregon’s unemployment rate generally has closely tracked the U.S. unemployment rate. The U.S. unemployment rate dropped to 5.4% in July from 5.9% in June.

In Oregon, nonfarm payroll employment grew by 20,000 in July, following monthly gains averaging 9,100 in the prior six months. Gains in July were largest in government (+12,800 jobs) and leisure and hospitality (+7,100). Only one major industry shed more than 900 jobs: transportation, warehousing, and utilities (-2,500 jobs).

Government job gains in July were concentrated in local government — in contrast with federal government and state government which both experienced their normal seasonal pattern in July. Throughout the economic recovery of the past year, local government averaged more than 20,000 jobs below its pre-recession level of about 230,000. But in July, seasonally adjusted employment shot upward by 12,800 jobs. Likely factors in the stronger July pattern this year include schools not laying off the typical numbers of employees for the summer and cities and counties ramping up employment closer to pre-pandemic levels.

Leisure and hospitality expanded rapidly in July, adding 7,100 jobs. Despite this gain, it still accounts for the bulk of Oregon’s jobs not recovered since early 2020, with 44,500 jobs left to recover to reach the prior peak month of February 2020. The industry has regained 60% of jobs lost early in the pandemic.

Transportation, warehousing, and utilities declined by 2,500 jobs in July. This loss may reflect a change in the seasonal pattern of the industry over the past two years. With online shopping and delivery rapidly growing, the industry has exploded over the last few years. It ramped up by 12,500 jobs between April and December of last year, which was about double the industry’s seasonal hiring a few years prior. Despite the recent hiccup in July, the industry is still 5,100 jobs above its July 2019 total of 70,400 jobs. 

Nationwide Supply Shortage Affecting Restaurants

Local restaurants and fast-food chains are now dealing with another downside of COVID-19: a nationwide supply shortage.  You may have noticed that even Taco Bell and Jack-in-the-Box shut down temporarily.

Wholesale food suppliers across the country are experiencing a lack of some products, and it could be due to COVID-19 outbreaks at distribution facilities and a lack of truck drivers.

The pandemic may be inching toward a resolution in 2021, but the after-effects of the havoc it wreaked in 2020 are very much still being felt across the food industry.

A new wave of supply chain issues is affecting fast-food chains and causing shortages of several crucial ingredients, as well as workers—factors that are highly likely to affect your next trip to the drive-thru.

It’s causing some local restaurants to come up with new ways to serve their customers.  It’s important also that customers understand and try to be civil and supportive during this time too. Remember… we are all in this together!

Oregon Power Rates To Decrease

The Bonneville Power Administration is dropping the cost of its electricity generated by 31 federal dams and a nuclear power plant. This is the first rate decrease in a decade.

The federal agency will drop the Tier 1 purchase price sold to consumer-owner utilities by 2.5 percent beginning Oct. 1, according to the Portland Business Journal.

BPA, which must pay for maintenance and fish recovery in a fluctuating power market, launched a plan in 2018 to boost its finances to keep rates low. Rather than setting aside $95 million a year for capital investments, the agency agreed to spend $40 million and pass that savings onto consumers.

The Public Power Council’s executive director, Scott Simms, described the compromise as a good middle ground that will help the more than one hundred struggling Northwest communities it represents.

American Idol Holding Virtual Tryouts in Oregon

SEASON 5 AUDITIONS ARE HAPPENING NOW!

American Idol is looking for the next singing superstar! They say it is easy to audition live and are looking for auditions around the country as well as doing some promoting in Oregon right now.

You can reserve your spot for an in-person virtual IDOL ACROSS AMERICA audition with show producers, or submit your online video audition. Yes, you can audition both ways! AmericanIdol.com/Auditions!

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