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State, county slowly come alive after pandemic closure

Warrenton High School athletes in last year's Fourth of July parade. The city decided this week that, after decades, no parade will be held this year. (Cindy Yingst)
Thursday, May 21, 2020

Restaurants, bars and some personal services are back in business after the governor approved Clatsop County’s plan for a phased-in approach to reopening.

Gyms, retail stores, barber shops, salons, spas and tattoo parlors are allowed to partially reopen. Local restaurants and bars may offer sit-down dining. And gatherings of up to 25 people are now allowed.

All reopened business are required to follow state guidelines on numbers of customers, physical distancing, cleaning and other measures to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.

The guidelines can be found on the county’s website and include requiring all businesses to provide masks to employees and ensuring that they’re worn. Public transit operators must require all riders to wear face coverings.

Under the state’s strategy, Clatsop and other counties will be eligible for further opening of business, gatherings and public spaces June 5, as long as the counties continue to meet the mandated health goals.

The reopening action doesn’t negate orders approved by Clatsop County and local cities restricting hotels and vacation rentals. Most local orders maintain these restrictions at least through the end of May.

Active cases

Clatsop County has had a total of 42 coronavirus cases since March 23. Nearly half – 19 -- have recovered and none has been hospitalized.

Three new cases were reported Tuesday. All are women living in north county, one in her 20s, one in her 30s, and one in her 50s. A new case reported Wednesday involved a north county man in his 50s.

Last weekend, a north county man in his 30s was reported with the illness.

Statewide, there had been 3,726 cases and 140 deaths as of Wednesday. The number of cases reported last week dropped 25 percent from the previous week and deaths declined 62 percent. It’s reassuring news, considering the rate of testing rose markedly last week.

Drive-through testing

The county continues to offer drive-through COVID-19 nasal testing three days a week for anyone 15 and older. For details and to register, go to co.clatsop.or.us and click on the red bar at the top of the page or call 503-325-8500.

Legal challenge

On Monday, a Baker County Circuit Court judge blocked Gov. Kate Brown’s stay-at-home orders, calling them “null and void” because they infringe on personal religious freedom and the ability of citizens to earn a living.

But before sundown, the Oregon Supreme Court stayed the ruling, allowing the governor’s executive orders to remain in effect until it gets a chance to hear the argument.

The Governor’s Office issued a statement Tuesday saying the executive orders have prevented more than 70,000 infections across the state and averted about 1,500 hospitalizations.

Although many of the state’s counties have moved on to Phase I of the governor’s reopening protocols, Clackamas, Marion, Multnomah, Polk and Washington counties remain bound by the earlier orders.

Other new rules

Summer school: Oregon Department of Education has issued new guides for in-person instruction and other summer programs. Program operators must develop communicable disease management plans with measures for infection control, physical distancing, screening for symptoms, and contact tracing.

Summer camps: All camps must have a communicable disease management plan in place for staff and for youth. Overnight camps aren’t permitted and day camps are limited to groups of 10 or fewer children.

Homelessness: New directives can’t be used to criminalize homelessness.

Childcare: Now open under certain restrictions, with priority placements for children of health care workers, first responders, and frontline workers.

Fourth of July

The cities of Warrenton and Gearhart have cancelled Fourth of July festivities this year, due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

“This event has been an important and integral part of this community for decades, and we are disappointed to have had to make this decision,” Warrenton City Manager Linda Engbretson wrote. “On a brighter note, look for more information over the next several months on a planned end of pandemic celebration.”

Remdesivir trials

Oregon received its first shipments last week of remdesivir, an experimental drug that has shown some success in treating the sickest COVID-19 patients.

Providence hospitals in Portland already have given the drug to more than 30 patients during clinical trials.

While not formally approved by the Food and Drug Administration, it’s being used under a federal Emergency Use Authorization. The EUA allows health professionals to use the drug to treat severely ill patients who meet certain criteria.

Oregon Health Authority is distributing the drug to hospitals statewide.

“Because of the experimental nature of the drug, shared decision-making between patients and providers is paramount, and informed consent must be obtained prior to its use,” said Dr. Dana Hargunani, OHA’s chief medical officer.

Preliminary results, released in April, showed that individuals with advanced lung disease who received the drug recovered 31 percent faster than patients who did not. The study included 1,063 patients. Differences in the mortality rate were not statistically significant.

Help with rent

A rent relief program launched by Oregon Housing and Community Services is making $8.5 million available statewide to those struggling to pay rent because they’ve lost income during the pandemic.

The Community Action Team, which includes Clatsop County, has received $299,610 for distribution, an amount determined through a needs-based formula.

Applications should be made through CAT by calling 503-397-3511 for more details. Tenant income loss documentation and other materials are required and rent payments will be made directly to the landlord on behalf of the tenant.

Help with food

Oregonians receiving food benefits will get additional assistance in June as a way to help with continued impacts from the pandemic.

Oregon Department of Human Services began issuing additional Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits in April and May. Individuals and families receive allotments based on the number of eligible members per household. The extra money comes from U.S. Food and Nutrition Services, which provided an additional $30 million to help children and adults in Oregon buy food.

A family of four typically receives a $346 monthly SNAP allotment; the new assistance provides a supplement of $300.

Supplemental payments for June will be issued on June 11 for current recipients and June 30 for new recipients.

In addition, families with students in the free meal program at Oregon schools will get some supplemental food money.

Households will receive food benefits equivalent to the cost of one lunch and one breakfast for each eligible student – $5.70 per normal school day for the months of March, April, May and June.

The additional benefits will be deposited automatically into their existing electronic benefit transfer (EBT) accounts for SNAP households on their regular issuance date beginning in June.

Students who get free meals but don’t receive SNAP benefits will automatically receive an Oregon Trail Card in the mail in the months of June and July.

The economy

Public health measures implemented in March to combat the rapid spread of COVID-19 are having an unprecedented economic impact on Oregon and the United States.

April provides the first full month of data measuring the initial impact on businesses and the unemployed.

The unemployment rate was at 14.2 percent with 266,600 jobs lost in the first two months of the pandemic, according to state Employment Department records released this week. One out of every eight jobs in Oregon was lost or deferred.

“While these numbers make for shocking historical records, they cannot totally capture the economic trauma so many Oregonians are experiencing,” said Anna Johnson, a state senior economic analyst.

The state had been at a near-record low of 3.5 percent unemployed workers.

Toll on health insurance

Oregon consumers can get a first look at requested rates for 2021 individual and small-group health insurance plans.

Six companies that serve individuals submitted rate-change requests ranging from a 3.5 percent decrease to a 11.1 percent increase, for a weighted average of 2.2 percent. Nine insurers serving small groups submitted rate-change requests ranging from a 1.1 percent decrease to a 7.9 percent increase, for a weighted average of 3.9 percent.

Oregon Department of Consumer and Business Services has posted the requested changes and is taking public comments at oregonhealthrates.com.

The state agency review will include accounting for recent COVID-19 claims experience and ongoing risks created by the pandemic.

Preliminary decisions are expected in early July, and final decisions will be made in early August.


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