Rogue Valley News, Tuesday 10/19 – Local Hospitals, Schools and Fire Departments Respond to Vaccine Mandate Now in Effect, Jackson County Asks Governor for National Guard Help with Illegal Cannabis Farms

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

Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Rogue Valley Weather

Today– Partly sunny, with a high near 65. Light east southeast wind becoming southeast 8 to 13 mph in the afternoon. Winds could gust as high as 20 mph.

Wednesday– A 30 percent chance of rain, mainly before noon. Mostly cloudy, with a high near 63. Southeast wind 6 to 16 mph, with gusts as high as 24 mph.

Thursday– Partly sunny, with a high near 67. East southeast wind 5 to 11 mph.

Friday– Rain, mainly before noon. High near 59. Chance of precipitation is 80%. New precipitation amounts between a tenth and quarter of an inch possible.

Saturday– Rain likely, mainly after noon. Mostly cloudy, with a high near 54.

Local Hospitals, Schools and Fire Departments Respond to Vaccine Mandate Now in Effect

With the deadline for Oregon’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate in effect as of Monday morning, a representative for Asante said that the situation remains “fluid” with their figures changing by the hour, but the medical provider has adopted a policy that keeps all unvaccinated workers home effective immediately.

Lauren Van Sickle, senior public relations specialist at Asante, said that roughly 88% of Asante’s workforce had provided proof of vaccination by Monday morning, representing about 5,400 staff of the more than 6,000 total in their workforce. Another 175 are in the process of becoming fully vaccinated, and the vaccination status of nearly 300 more workers is still being verified.

“We’re finding that every hour we’re getting updates from employees who have been vaccinated but who have not yet turned in their information … so we’re finding that it could change by the hour, even by the minute, as to the number of employees who are vaccinated,” Van Sickle said.

About 490 Asante workers have received a valid religious or medical exception, Van Sickle said. However, the exception does not represent a pass for normal work status at Asante, with or without regular COVID-19 tests. Of those employees with exceptions, 123 are now working remotely, and the others have been placed on administrative leave.

Workers on leave still receive their benefits and earned time off, such as vacation and sick leave, but the leave is not otherwise paid.

Van Sickle said that Asante has not terminated the employment of anyone not in compliance with the mandate, but there have been 58 resignations connected to the requirement. She also indicated that the end of October will be a demarcating line for employees on leave to have either become fully vaccinated or prove significant progress toward that status, with termination of employment likely for those who do not.

“Right now we’re at the point where, if they’re not vaccinated, then there’s a period of time where — through the end of October — they will either become fully vaccinated or start their series of vaccinations,” Van Sickle said. “So it’s kind of a really fluid number right now and we just don’t have a firm idea of the total number of employees who will still be with our health system come the end of the month.”

Traveling nurses and other contracted healthcare staff are not exempted from the requirement. The Oregon Health Authority’s rule applies to “any individual paid and unpaid, working, learning, studying, assisting, observing or volunteering in a healthcare setting providing direct patient or resident care or who have the potential for direct or indirect exposure to patients, residents, or infectious materials.”

Van Sickle expressed dismay about the change in temperature between the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic and now — how healthcare workers and first responders were hailed as heroes for working to save lives in the face of the unknown, and now face an environment of anger and hostility surrounding COVID-19 and the vaccine.

“We appreciate the support that Asante’s received from the community, for those caregivers who have stayed,” Van Sickle said. “Patient safety really is our priority and we want to make sure when you come here that you’re as safe as possible, and that means our workforce needs to be vaccinated to make sure that we’re not infecting anybody who comes into our hospital for any purpose.”

This all happening as Asante Closes Medford and White City Urgent Care Clinics

Asante announced that it will close two of its urgent care clinics in Jackson County. The medical provider said the decision stemmed from a decrease in use.

Starting this Sunday, the urgent care clinics on Black Oak Drive in Medford and the White City location on Avenue G will both shut down. The company’s third urgent care clinic in Grants Pass on the Three Rivers Medical Center campus will remain open.

The Asante Physician Partners Family Medicine clinics, which are located in the same buildings as the Medford and White City urgent care clinics, are not closing. The family medicine clinics continue to schedule patients for appointments.

Asante said in a statement that this was a business decision arising from a decrease in usage of urgent care services, while more patients took to using telehealth during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Providence Medford Medical Center States Their Compliance Rate 96%

A spokesperson for Providence Medford Medical Center said that the hospital system in southern Oregon had a compliance rate of 96% as of Monday morning, which includes healthcare workers that are fully vaccinated or have received an exception.

“Again, we are grateful that the vast majority of our caregivers have received their vaccinations,” said Julie Denney, senior communication manager at Providence. “This number changes daily as caregivers either get vaccinated, receive an approved exemption, or new caregivers join the organization and have yet to upload their vaccination information.”

Unlike Asante, Providence did not indicate that workers who were granted exceptions have been placed on leave or transitioned to remote work. Caregivers who have taken no action to either prove vaccination status or receive an approved exception “will be taken off the schedule and placed on unpaid administrative leave.”

The Jackson County Board of Commissioners declared a state of emergency at the end of September, anticipating mass staffing losses in education and healthcare due to enforcement of the mandate. While Asante’s policy on exceptions mean that it has sidelined a not-insignificant number of employees, the news so far from local school districts and other impacted entities suggests that the fears of major upheaval were unfounded.

School Districts Reporting Effects of Mandate

Now that Oregon’s vaccination deadline for educators and healthcare workers has arrived, Medford School District officials say that they are in good shape. According to the District, more than 97% of staff are in compliance, either by being fully vaccinated or by submitting a valid exception.

“The vast majority of our staff have taken this very serious — they’re here today to work with kids,” said MSD assistant superintendent Brad Earl.

The Medford School District has more than 1,500 employees. Earl said that as of Monday, 80% are considered fully vaccinated. Another 17% or so either received a valid medical or religious exception, or they were office workers who qualified for another kind of exception under state rules.

At present, Earl said that a total of 40 people are not in compliance. About a quarter of those are coaches not directly employed by the District — at least some of whom are not coaching this current season — who did not understand that they would be covered by the requirement, according to the assistant superintendent. Most of the remainder are classified employees. 

There are four teachers in total who have not either turned in proof of vaccination or a valid exception. Earl said that in all of these hold-out cases, the District is working with people on an individual basis toward a resolution. Earl said that one First Student bus driver and four District employees have directly indicated that they don’t intend to comply.

In all cases, Earl said that the District is not leading with immediate termination of employment. Depending on the staff member’s individual situation, they’ll either be placed on paid or unpaid leave for the time being.

“We would love to reach a point where we agree to some standard that they can live with and they stay at the Medford School District, but that’s a pretty small group, so we’re very pleased about where we’re at,” Earl said.

Earl said that even if some of these staff do end up parting ways with the District, the impact does not compare to the disruption caused by having to quarantine students and teachers when positive COVID-19 cases pop up.

“We were cautiously optimistic because statistically we had more people who were vaccinated, or we had worked through some sort of an exception with, prior to this mandate,” Earl said. “If you compare it to community-wide levels, we were outpacing the community.

“So we felt cautiously optimistic that our team was going to get on board with this, knowing that we put kids at the center of our decisions, and that it’s inconvenient right now, but it’s a heck of a lot better than not having in-person school. So we are pleased — a little sigh of relief that everyone’s here and working with kids.”

By and large, impacts have been similarly light in other southern Oregon school districts. Grants Pass School District said that 14 of its 800 employees have either resigned or been placed on unpaid leave. Central Point School District said 15 out of 600 employees resigned or went on unpaid leave.

Klamath Falls City Schools was the first local district to state that it had either terminated the employment of several staff members or had them resign.

Jackson County Fire District 3 said that 99% of employees had either been vaccinated or turned in an exception. Rural Metro Fire in Josephine County, while reluctant to detail specific numbers, said that they would not be losing anyone due to the mandate.

While not all firefighters are covered by the vaccine mandate, those licensed through the OHA as an emergency medical services provider (EMSP) were included in the mandate.

Police officers were not covered by the mandate, with the exception of state employees like those with Oregon State Police.

Jackson County Asks Governor for National Guard Help with Illegal Cannabis Farms

Following the biggest discovery of illegal marijuana cultivation here in Klamath County just last week, the same day, a southern Oregon county declared a state of emergency amid a sharp increase in illegal cannabis farms, police raided a site that had about two tons of processed marijuana and 17,500 pot plants.

The raid illustrates that the proliferation of industrial-scale marijuana farms has gotten so bad and so brazen that
Jackson County Commissioners asked Gov. Kate Brown to send in the Oregon National Guard “to assist, as able, in the enforcement of laws related to the production of cannabis.”

They also directly appealed to Oregon Senate President Peter Courtney and House Speaker Tina Kotek for help getting additional funding to tackle the problem.

During last Wednesday’s raid in Medford, Oregon, police found a vast outdoor growing operation, plus harvested plants hanging upside down on drying racks and 3,900 pounds (1,800 kilograms) of resinous buds stashed in huge bags and in stacks of plastic storage containers. The officers took 26 migrant workers into custody, interviewed them and then released them. A warrant was issued for the arrest of the primary suspect, the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office said.

Courtney said he is so concerned about the surge in illegal marijuana farms in Jackson and neighboring Josephine counties that he agrees that the Oregon National Guard should be sent in. Many of the illegal growers are armed.

Oregon reports 3,276 new confirmed and presumptive COVID-19 cases, 24 new deaths

There are 24 new COVID-19 related deaths in Oregon, raising the state’s death toll to 4,185. The Oregon Health Authority reported 3,276 new confirmed and presumptive cases of COVID-19 bringing the state total to 352,026.

The new confirmed and presumptive COVID-19 cases reported today are in the following counties: Baker (12), Benton (87), Clackamas (256), Clatsop (12), Columbia (44), Coos (31), Crook (29), Curry (6), Deschutes (311), Douglas (124), Grant (4), Harney (18), Hood River (18), Jackson (149), Jefferson (49), Josephine (61), Klamath (55), Lake (7), Lane (340), Lincoln (28), Linn (240), Malheur (12), Marion (296), Morrow (14), Multnomah (515), Polk (45), Tillamook (16), Umatilla (47), Union (31), Wallowa (3), Wasco (11), Washington (334), Wheeler (4) and Yamhill (67).

143 Fully Vaccinated Oregon Residents Who Received Pfizer Vaccine Have Died Of COVID-19

  • More than 15,000 Pfizer recipients in Oregon have tested positive for COVID-19
  • Moderna and J&J recipients have also reported getting infected with COVID-19
  • The majority of Oregon residents with COVID-19 are patients aged 65 and older

More than 140 fully vaccinated individuals in Oregon have died of COVID-19 despite receiving the vaccine developed by Pfizer-BioNTech, according to state data.

At least 143 Oregon residents who have received two doses of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine have died of the virus as of Oct. 14. The state has also recorded 15,057 breakthrough infections and 562 breakthrough hospitalizations among Pfizer recipients since the beginning of the pandemic, according to the latest data.

Among those who received the two-dose Moderna vaccine, 72 have died of COVID-19. There have also been 7,938 breakthrough cases and 333 breakthrough hospitalizations. 

Since the beginning of the pandemic, 34 Johnson & Johnson recipients have died, while 203 have been admitted. Overall, 3,648 J&J recipients have been diagnosed with COVID-19. 

Across the state, health officials have recorded a total of 30,687 breakthrough COVID-19 infections as of Thursday. The median age of breakthrough infections occurred in fully vaccinated individuals aged 48. 

Of the total number of cases, 3.8% occurred in residents of care facilities or senior living communities. At least 25.1% involved patients aged 65 and older and 2.5% in children between the ages of 12 to 17. 

The Oregon Health Authority has recorded a total of 348,766 COVID-19 cases among the unvaccinated and vaccinated, with 1,093 additional cases reported on Sunday alone. 

The state has also reported a total of 4,161 coronavirus-related deaths, 26 of which were reported on Sunday, according to an analysis by The New York Times.

Despite the rising number of breakthrough COVID-19 cases, health experts still urge Americans to get vaccinated. Experts also note that while no vaccine is 100% effective against the novel coronavirus, they are still capable of preventing deaths, hospitalizations and severe cases.

“There will always be a proportion of individuals who will still remain susceptible to infection and illness,” Professor Lawrence Young, a virologist at the University of Warwick’s Medical School, told CNBC.

Against the more transmissible Delta variant, which is currently the dominant strain in the U.S., Pfizer’s vaccine is above or close to 90% effective in preventing hospitalization and severe disease, according to a Qatar study.

preprint Canadian study found that one dose of Moderna offered 72% protection against symptomatic infection. However, the study cannot estimate the protection with two doses.

study conducted in South Africa, where the Delta variant dominates, found that the J&J vaccine provides 71% protection against hospitalization.

Across the country, COVID-19 case numbers and hospitalizations have also been steadily decreasing over the past weeks. As of Monday, the rolling daily average was 83,576 new cases. However, case rates in states experiencing cold weather have seen a recent uptick. 

Five U.S. states have seen a 10% increase in COVID-19 cases compared to last week — Iowa, Oklahoma, Alaska, Vermont and New Hampshire, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. 

YESTERDAY was the deadline for state employees to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

Governor Brown issued the mandate in August requiring state employees, school employees, health care workers, and long-term care facility workers to show proof of full vaccination by October 18th. Some state workers are getting a little extra time to get vaccinated thanks to deadline extensions negotiated by their unions. That includes executive branch workers, who have until November 30th.

Employees affected by the mandate were allowed to apply for religious or medical exemptions, and some unions were able to bargain for different accommodations regarding the deadline. Still, there is concern over the potential loss of first responders, school employees, transportation workers, health care workers, and long-term care facility workers.

Meanwhile, The Oregon National Guard has started to draw down the number of troops deployed to hospitals as the state sees fewer COVID-19 hospitalizations.

Governor Brown deployed national guard members in August to help healthcare workers as they faced a surge of patients brought on by the Delta variant.

An Oregon National Guard spokesperson said Friday they started a drawdown of troops since hospitals were covering the “necessary non-clinical positions on their own accord.” The decision to pull guard members is made on a case-by-case basis as hospitals determine their individual staffing needs in coordination with the Oregon Health Authority, according to the ONG.

The guard members offered logistical support for roughly 20 hospitals such as “materials handlers and equipment runners.” They will also assist with COVID-19 testing and other supportive hospital operations.

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Oregon Wildfire Recovery Update  


The Oregon Office of Emergency Management has posted the Oregon Wildfire Recovery Update for Oct. 18, 2021, to the Oregon Wildfire Resources page. View today’s Wildfire Recovery update here. The next update will be released on Nov. 17, 2021.

The McKenzie Community Celebration in Vida, Ore., unveiled a permanent commemorative art piece designed and created by Oregon conceptual artist Margaret Godfrey. (McKenzie River Locals Helping Locals)

The McKenzie Community Celebration in Vida, Ore., included a first responder appreciation ceremony celebrating the Upper McKenzie Fire Department. (McKenzie River Locals Helping Locals)

FEMA has activated a federal program offering 2020 wildfire survivors the opportunity to purchase their currently occupied trailer. (FEMA) — Oregon Office of Emergency Management

Oregon Governor Kate Brown ordered flags be flown at half-staff to honor Colin Powell, the former Joint Chiefs chairman and secretary of state.

Powell’s death was announced Monday from complications with COVID-19. He’d also been treated over the past few years for multiple myeloma, a blood cancer. He was 84. The proclamation is set to continue through sunset on Friday, October 22. The governor went on to say Powell lived his life in service to our country, adding that she and her husband “hold his family in our hearts as we mourn his passing.

Mother and Child Rescued From Submerged Car near Tillamook

A mother and her one-year-old child were rescued from a car submerged in a river after a crash near Tillamook on Sunday, according to the Tillamook County Sheriff’s Office.

Tillamook County Sheriff’s Office (TCSO)

Deputies said the crash happened on Highway 6. “It was reported that this vehicle was westbound toward Tillamook, making numerous bad passes before crashing and landing in the river,” said TCSO deputy Ethan Ault.

Crews including Tillamook Fire District personnel and police officers helped safely rescue the mother and child, deputies said. This crash is being investigated by Oregon State Police.

OSP Warns of Wildlife In Roadways Major Safety Hazards To Drivers Particularly This Time of Year

Oregon State Police say you are “usually safer” if you hit an animal with your car than if you swerve to avoid wildlife on roadways.

Oregon State Police

Troopers shared the story of a driver who recently came upon an animal on Highway 20 outside Sweet Home.

“The driver attempted to avoid the animal by applying his brakes, however, they were non-responsive, so he went into the gravel on the shoulder and lost control,” state police said. “His vehicle rolled down the ravine about 20 yards. A local bystander stopped and rendered aid to the driver who had minor injuries. The driver was transported by medics to a local hospital for treatment.”

Troopers managed to locate the driver’s dog unharmed after the crash.

The incident illustrates the danger of swerving to avoid animals in the road.

“If you cannot stop in time, unfortunate as it may be, it is usually safer to hit the animal than swerving,” state police said. “Swerving may land you in the path of another car or like this gentleman in a ditch.”

If you do hit an animal, troopers ask you to pull over and call your Oregon State Police (dial *OSP from your cell phone in Oregon) or local law enforcement to report the incident and have the animal safely removed from the roadway.

“Wildlife in the roadways presents major safety hazards to drivers,” state police said. “October through December is an especially high-traffic time for animals moving from one part of their habitat to another while they breed and forage for food, although they can and do appear on the roads throughout the year.”

Driver Safety Tips

  • Scan Ahead and watch for shining eyes or movement along roadsides.
  • Look for more animals after you see one animal – they often travel in groups.
  • Brake. Don’t Swerve.
  • Be ready for animals to change direction.
  • Obey traffic signs, including wildlife warning and speed limit signs, and slow down on blind curves.
  • Don’t drink and drive.
  • Stay Alert. Avoid driving distracted.
  • Slow Down to increase your reaction time.

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