The latest and most comprehensive coverage of local News, Sports, Business, and Community News stories in the Klamath Basin, Southern Oregon and around the state of Oregon from Wynne Broadcasting’s KFLS News/Talk 1450AM / 102.5FM, The Herald & News, and BasinLife.com, and powered by Mick Insurance.
Tuesday, January 19, 2021
Klamath Basin Weather
Tuesday Sunny, with a high near 46.
Wednesday Mostly sunny, with a high near 47.
Thursday Mostly sunny, with a high near 47.
Friday Partly sunny, with a high near 40.
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COVID-19 has claimed three more lives in Oregon, raising the state’s death toll to 1,803, Oregon Health Authority reported Monday. OHA also reported Monday 666 new confirmed and presumptive cases of COVID-19 on Monday, bringing the state total to 133,851.
On Monday, OHA reported that 11,951 new doses of COVID-19 vaccinations were added to the state immunization registry. Oregon has now administered a cumulative total of 216,925 first and second doses of COVID-19 vaccines.
To date, 335,075 doses of vaccine have been delivered to sites across Oregon. The number of hospitalized patients with COVID-19 across Oregon is 342, which is 19 fewer than yesterday. There are 94 COVID-19 patients in intensive care unit beds, which is one fewer than yesterday.
Local Teachers Share Concerns About Early Return To Hybrid Learning
Klamath Falls City and Klamath County School district boards voted unanimously in a joint, virtual session on Jan. 7 to reopen their schools to hybrid learning, at the recommendation of Klamath County Public Health. The meeting drew more than 500 people, with the majority of comments in favor of a return to campuses.
But many teachers were troubled by the speed of the return and the fact that COVID cases were still growing in the area.
“The decision to return to school at this time shocked me,” Brent Glidden said last week. “It seemed very rushed and rash.”
Glidden isn’t the only teacher concerned about the early return to hybrid learning.
As the union representative at Ponderosa, Glidden is in regular communication with his colleagues, who bring their concerns to him.
“I think more of our building is concerned than unconcerned,” he said.
In speaking with his colleagues, Glidden said he knows of two individuals who spent winter break battling COVID-19 and they believe their exposure was at school, when most students had not yet returned to the building. Over a matter of 12 school days from late November through mid-December, Glidden received letters notifying him of four cases of COVID-19 among Ponderosa staff, again before students had even arrived.
“That kind of transmission makes me very nervous to have students back at this time, and before we have a vaccine,” he said.
Glidden and other teachers are in favor of returning to in-person instruction, but wanted to wait a few weeks, at least. That would have coincided with a start of new semester, would have given the district more time to resolve liability issues, and perhaps teachers would be able to be vaccinated.
“I’ve absolutely loved seeing students this week,” Glidden said, but said he’s “concerned that we’re going to have an unavoidable bad outcome … all it’s going to take is one hospitalization and this was a bad gamble financially.”
Kathryn Johnson, a fifth-grade teacher at Shasta Elementary in Klamath County School District, started teaching in-person classes Jan. 11, but said it wouldn’t have been her first choice.
She was reassigned to teach in-person at Shasta Elementary in November after teaching via Pearson Connexus in the fall.
“I was concerned about the (rise) of numbers of (COVID-19) cases in town,” Johnson said.
Johnson said she believes Shasta Elementary has protocols in place to promote safety, such as social distancing, masks and extra cleaning. She is also able to work in a modular classroom away from the main part of the school.
“I can control who comes in my house and I can pretty much control who comes in my classroom, and right now that’s nine students on Monday and Tuesday and nine students on Wednesday and Thursday, and I share a building with one other teacher,” Johnson said. “I feel personally, I’m lucky. But I worry about the safety of older teachers and teachers with pre-existing health conditions, that everybody’s going to stay as diligent as they have been.”
Johnson hoped to have the most vulnerable teachers covered by a COVID-19 vaccine before returning to classrooms.
“I worry that a teacher is going to get very, very sick,” she said.
Johnson is frustrated, too, by what she sees from community members who choose not to wear a mask.
“In my classroom, the kids have on their masks, they’re six feet apart,” Johnson said. “I’m wearing my mask. I can talk through it, I have a teacher voice.”
Johnson believes teachers and students are doing their part to mitigate virus spread. She encouraged the community at-large to do the same.
“I know of good family friends who have died from COVID and I just don’t want to see that in our schools,” she said.
Lainee Meis, 65, is an art teacher at Ponderosa Middle School who also feels that schools returned to in-person classes too soon. Meis is worried about contracting COVID-19, since she is older than the average teacher and considers herself at risk.
Meis asked for and was granted the ability to teach students virtually from her classroom. As students return to in-person learning, they will continue to take electives such as art and music from home. Meis said there are other teachers who feel similarly, but they do not have the ability to take leave or teach virtually.
“It’s been good for me, not so much for the other teachers,” she said. “They’ve allowed me not to get near the students until I get vaccinated. I still feel passionate that we’ve brought them in too soon.”
Meis said she’s happy that air purifying systems are being installed at Ponderosa Middle School to improve air flow in the building. And she’s also looking forward to the possibility of getting a vaccine in the coming weeks. But she thinks both of those should have been completed before students returned.
“It’s a day late and a dollar short,” Meis said. “We’re already in the classrooms … If they would’ve just waited a week or two until we had this equipment, and until we were vaccinated, I don’t think anybody would have a problem with returning to school.”
‘Roll of the dice’
Sean Wilcox teaches English-language learners and travels between Henley High School, Mazama High School and Henley Middle School during the week. He said he feels “troubled” by the joint school board decision to reopen schools so soon.
“I would have preferred to wait until a more concrete plan for vaccinations was created and our COVID numbers were lower,” Wilcox said in an email. “I have a chronic health condition (asthma) that has hospitalized me in the past. I worry that if I were to contract COVID-19, I would not fare well.”
City and county union presidents called on administrators and school boards to wait until Jan. 25 to restart hybrid learning.
Klamath Falls Education Association President Maureen Lundy, spokesperson for the city schools’ union, also said the return to school was premature. Lundy shared concerns held by city school teachers during the Jan. 7 joint school board meeting, prior to the joint vote of support for reopening the schools four days later.
“I think they just rolled the dice,” Lundy said. “But our health shouldn’t be a gamble.”
A Klamath Falls Education Association survey shows 17% of teachers in the city school district had no concerns with returning to hybrid learning on Jan. 11, while 83% had some kind of concern about coming back so quickly. The percentage breakdown included 55% of individuals who didn’t want to return to hybrid learning until it was safer to do so, and 45% of individuals who had some kind of concern but wanted to return to hybrid learning.
Lundy said she believes there are more staff members who are high-risk for COVID-19 or who are caring for others who are high risk, who may not be disclosing their situation due to fears of how they would be perceived.
“All of our teachers really want kids back,” she added “It’s so much better to teach a person, and we really do worry about our kids’ mental health.”
Still, she said it had to be done safely, and she wasn’t sure it was safe yet.
“We are in (category) red,” Lundy said. “We have some of the highest caseloads in the state. We have a very high positivity rate and we don’t have any vaccinations yet. My suggestion was to wait a couple weeks, maybe till the semester change.”
Administration stands by reopening
Superintendents Glen Szymoniak and Paul Hillyer stand by the joint-school board decision to reopen, which was advised by the county public health department. Hillyer said the board was aware that the majority of city school teachers polled had concerns with opening up on Jan. 11, but he felt getting children into classrooms as soon as possible should take priority.
“The board just chose, because of the benefits to the students, that it was wise to move forward anyway, even though there wasn’t 100% agreement that that was the right thing to do as far as the staff goes,” Hillyer said.
Hillyer said the districts had to weigh the potential financial and safety risks with the social and emotional risks that students faced under distance learning. He said both boards leaned on the fact that Klamath County Public Health recommended students return to hybrid learning.
Public health looked at multiple factors of in-person education, including its stable environment, access to food and physical education, as well as its promotion of social skills and healthy habits.
“Because of all of those factors, we did make the recommendation to return to in-person learning,” said Jessica Dale, assistant director of Klamath County Public Health, during the joint school board meeting. “We feel that we are a group that needs to advocate for our vulnerable population so that they have the most stable and secure environments to be able to build lifelong skills.”
In addition to COVID-19 risks, school districts face financial risks as well. Legislation passed Dec. 28 — House Bill 4402 — appeared to provide legal protections in the event of returning to classrooms. But after studying the bill closely, those protections were more limited than they originally appeared.
Hillyer admitted those risks are real, and it’s easy to feel vulnerable to legal action in today’s “litigious” society.
“A lot of time people look for those opportunities to sue school districts or any large entities,” Hillyer said. “We have concerns about liability until we’re given that protection our concerns have not diminished.”
New guidance is set to be released from Oregon Department of Education Tuesday and Hillyer said he and the city schools district feel confident that outstanding liability issues will be resolved. Even if they are not, he stands by the districts’ decision to reopen.
County schools have different dynamics
Mark Nevala, president of the Klamath County Education Association, has been a teacher for county schools for more than 20 years, and serves as a spokesperson for the union.
He emphasized the union wasn’t against returning to hybrid learning, but that many teachers would’ve liked to wait until the start of the second semester on Jan. 25. He also expressed concerns that it is a bargaining year for county teachers, which will likely begin in early spring.
“We’re worried about the school finances if something bad should happen,” Nevala said.
Nevala said he surveyed teachers more than two weeks ago to see how they were feeling about coming back to in-person instruction.
He said 48% of those surveyed felt safe enough to return to hybrid learning on Jan. 11, while 38% had some kind of reservations about coming back, and 15% said they were neutral.
“With us, we have such a diverse clientele, we’ve got the outer lying schools in Bonanza and Chiloquin and Gilchrist, their dynamics are a little bit different than the suburban areas,” Nevala said.
Nevala said teachers at middle and high schools are more likely to have reservations about contracting the virus while teaching in-person classes.
“We had to shut down a cohort at Stearns, so we’ll see how the numbers go,” he added. “That sixth-grade cohort is in quarantine till Jan. 25.”
Szymoniak confirmed a cohort at Stearns was shut down temporarily due to COVID-19, though he said the cohort system helps the district remain open overall, while addressing the needs of those who contract the virus.
Szymoniak also defended the joint school boards decision to get back to classrooms on Jan. 11.
“When public health tells you to do something, that’s who I listen to,” Szymoniak said. “They felt it was better to have them in school than to not, because of the things they were seeing with kids not in school.”
Szymoniak said Gov. Kate Brown left it up to the districts to work with public health to decide when the district would go back to hybrid learning.
On Dec. 23, the governor said she wanted to have all Oregon students back in the classroom by Feb. 15.
The Klamath County Ousley Scholarship Fund is now accepting applications for the 2021-2022 academic year.
Applications for both new and renewing applicants, as well as scholarship requirements and information, are available at the fund’s website: www.ousleyedfund.org.
Students must have graduated from a high school in Klamath County or received a G.E.D. by July 1, 2021 and may attend any private nonprofit or public college, university, community college, vocational or technical school in the United States. Recipients of the scholarships must enroll as a full-time student and maintain full-time status to receive scholarship funding. Graduate students are also eligible to apply.
Students must have a good scholastic record (3.0 or better GPA) and demonstrate a need for financial assistance.
Around the state of Oregon
Josephine County announces death of COVID-19 patient
JOSEPHINE COUNTY, Ore. — A Josephine County individual has died from complications relating to a COVID-19 infection.
An 83-year-old woman tested positive for COVID-19 Dec. 28, 2020, and died Jan. 15 at Asante Three Rivers Medical Center in Grants Pass. She had underlying conditions.
Josephine County now has a total of 34 COVID-19-related deaths. Of those patients, 33 died from complications relating to COVID-19 infections.
Only 3 In 4 Residents in Oregon Plan To Get The Vaccine
A new survey from a University of Oregon policy research center shows that nearly one-quarter of Oregon residents do not plan to get the COVID-19 vaccine, while another one-third of residents “might” get vaccinated.
UO’s Institute for Policy Research and Engagement studied the attitudes of Oregonians toward wearing face masks, social distancing and the coronavirus vaccine. The results of the survey were just released.
The survey showed concerning results regarding people’s social behaviors and their attitudes toward getting vaccinated.
According to the survey, 24% of respondents said they “will not” get vaccinated, and 33% said they “might” get vaccinated. The results said at least two-thirds of the population need to get vaccinated in order to achieve “herd-immunity,” which is the societal protection that can occur when enough of the population gets vaccinated for the disease.
Nearly all Oregonians in the “maybe” category regarding getting vaccinated have to be moved into the “yes” category to reach the level needed for herd immunity. Continued public health messaging will be necessary to address the reasons people are hesitant about the vaccine. Respondents made it clear that their primary reasons for being hesitant were concerns about side effects or even contracting COVID-19 from the vaccine.
Other reasons for hesitation stem from misinformation about vaccines in general, including conspiracy theories and ideas from science fiction movies.
In what could be a major blow to the economy of Lake County, Gov. Kate Brown is closing three Oregon prisons, a decision that authorities say would save the state more than $44 million.
The governor said she believes the money could be better invested elsewhere, such as early childhood education. On Friday, Brown said she took unilateral action and has directed the Department of Corrections to move forward with closing the three facilities. Warner Creek Correctional facility employs 102 people in Lake County. The prison holds 450 inmates. It is one of Lake County’s primary employers.
The closure of three of the state’s 14 prisons will be staggered: First will be Mill Creek Correctional Facility in Salem, which is scheduled to be closed by July of this year, next Shutter Creek Correctional Institution in North Bend by January 2022, and last Warner Creek Correctional Facility in Lakeview, to be closed by July 2022.
The High Desert Museum is now accepting submissions for the 2021 Waterston Desert Writing Prize.
The Prize honors literary nonfiction that illustrates artistic excellence, sensitivity to place, and desert literacy with the desert as both subject and setting. Emerging, mid-career and established nonfiction writers are invited to apply.
To learn more about the Waterston Desert Writing Prize and how to submit an entry, visit highdesertmuseum.org.
Submissions will be accepted through May 1. Inspired by author and poet Ellen Waterston’s love of the High Desert, a region that has been her muse for more than 30 years, the Prize launched in 2014 and annually recognizes the vital role deserts play worldwide in the ecosystem and human narrative. The Prize is named in honor of actor Sam Waterston, who provided the seed money for the endowment that helps fund the award.
Several dozen small earthquakes were detected over the weekend near Mount Hood by the Pacific Northwest Seismic Network.
They began about 3 p.m. and were still going at 7 p.m. Sunday. But not to worry. Experts at the seismic network said there is no concern over “an impending volcanic eruption because similar swarms of small tectonic, not volcanic, earthquakes have happened in the past in this area.” Sunday’s swarm was “off-summit” — not centered under the volcano, but within a few miles of it, close to the Twin Lakes Fault.
In 2019 there was a similar small swarm there, mostly on July 9.
Democratic U.S. Senator Ron Wyden is asking the IRS to investigate groups involved with organizing a rally that took place just before a pro-Trump mob stormed the halls of Congress.
He says President Trump encouraged his supporters at the rally to march to the Capitol building. Five people were killed in the hours that followed. Wyden wrote to the head of the IRS last week, saying some of the groups may have helped incite or facilitate illegal acts. He said those groups could lose their tax-exempt status if they engaged in illegal activity.
Crews around the state are beginning to clear roads and private properties of trees damaged in September’s wildfires.
The tree clearing is part of the Oregon Wildfire Recovery Debris Management Task Force’s effort to provide cleanup for homes and businesses in the eight affected counties – Clackamas, Douglas, Jackson, Klamath, Lane, Lincoln, Linn and Marion. The work paves the way for rebuilding efforts, community recovery and helps revitalize Oregon’s economy.
Before crews begin clearing hazard trees from private property, they will clear remaining logs and debris from roadsides. Drivers in fire-affected areas should keep an eye out for crews and be prepared to stop.
State contractors are marking trees for removal with blue dot and a barcode tracking tag. Many other entities, including utilities and private companies, continue with their own tree removal operations and have their own markings.
On private property, dead or dying trees will be removed if they pose a threat to the safety of cleanup crew or public right of ways. Ash and structural debris removal will soon follow, including concrete and other household and construction materials, from private homes and businesses. A list of what is included in cleanup is available.
Hazard trees and ash and debris cleanup are the focus of Step 2 of the cleanup, and includes homes, mobile home parks, second homes, businesses and other structures. Step 1 involved removal of hazardous household waste and was completed in December.
Home and business owners must sign an All Wildfire Debris Right of Entry Form with their county to allow cleanup crews onto their property. Visit https://wildfire.oregon.gov/ or call 503-934-1700 to submit your form and for more information. Even those who did not join in Step 1 of the cleanup may still opt into the program.
Participating property owners also need to complete a questionnaire about their property, to help with planning and ensure an efficient, safe removal of debris.
As the task force’s contract manager, the Oregon Department of Transportation is awarding three types of contracts for Step 2: hazard tree removal, debris and ash removal, and monitoring.
Given the large geographic area and volume of work, ODOT awarded the hazard tree, and ash and debris removal contracts over multiple operational areas and not as a single statewide contract.
A separate company is monitoring the cleanup work, environmental testing, and document completion of Step 2 property by property. The Federal Emergency Management Agency requires an independent company to perform monitoring work. This firm will monitor contractors removing hazard trees, ash, and debris to ensure cleanup and safety protocols and proper accounting. FEMA requires monitoring to control costs, reduce waste, and help eliminate fraud.
A Washington report has found one of the state’s iconic fish is facing a threat to its existence as a result of climate change.
The 2020 State of Salmon in Watersheds report by the Washington State Recreation and Conservation Office found the state’s salmon are “teetering on the brink of extinction,” Northwest News Network reported. The report, which shows a trend of warming waters and habitat degradation negatively impacting salmon runs, said state officials must change their response to climate change and a growing number of Washington residents.
The report said 10 of 14 threatened or endangered salmon and steelhead runs in the state are not improving, while five face a crisis scenario.