Klamath Basin News, Wednesday, 5/5 – Oregon and Faculty Teachers Union Reach 5-Year Contract Agreement, Back in Classrooms Today; Klamath County Drops to “High Risk” Status Again on Friday

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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 Insuranceyour local health and Medicare agents.

Wednesday, May 5, 2021

Klamath Basin Weather

Today Sunny, with a high near 82. Windy at times as high at 15-20 mph.

Thursday Mostly sunny, with a high near 67.
Friday Sunny, with a high near 57.
Saturday Widespread frost before 7am. Otherwise, sunny, with a high near 66. Areas of frost overnight with a low around 36.
Sunday Sunny, with a high near 66

Today’s Headlines

Klamath County will return to “High Risk” Covid Status, from “Extreme Risk” beginning Friday

Governor Kate Brown announced on Tuesday that the 15 Oregon counties currently on Extreme Risk status will be able to step back down after a week on the heightened restrictions — a move that will apply to Jackson, Josephine, and Klamath counties.

The change will go into effect on Friday, May 7, allowing the counties
that jumped to Extreme Risk last Friday to resume High Risk status.

In all, 24 Oregon counties will be at High Risk, four at Moderate, and eight at Lower Risk . In a statement, Brown’s office said that the seven-day average increase for hospitalized COVID-19 patients dropped below 15 percent, putting the state below the threshold outlined in early April. She said she does not anticipate that any counties will return to the state’s highest level of restrictions “for the duration of this pandemic.”

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There are six new COVID-19 related deaths in Oregon, raising the state’s death toll to 2,508.  The Oregon Health Authority reported 748 new confirmed and presumptive cases of yesterday, bringing the state total to 187,611.

Oregon has now administered a total of 1,668,141 first and second doses of Pfizer, 1,324,331 first and second doses of Moderna and 98,485 single doses of Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccines. As of today, 1,314,226 people have completed a COVID-19 vaccine series. There are 1,870,643 who have had at least one dose.

The number of hospitalized patients with COVID-19 across Oregon is 345, which is six fewer than yesterday. There are 79 COVID-19 patients in intensive care unit (ICU) beds, which is one fewer than yesterday.

In the early hours of Tuesday morning, Oregon Tech administration and its faculty union agreed to a five-year labor contract, ending a strike that had gone into its second week.

Both parties agreed to new workload expectations which will allow faculty to spend more time with students and in the classroom, according to administration.

An Oregon Tech spokesperson said that the school offered a guaranteed 11.5 percent increase over the life of the contract, with an additional 3.5 percent possible through merit increases.

It also includes healthcare, in which Oregon Tech will pay nearly 100 percent of healthcare costs.

Officials said that both parties agreed to new workload expectations which will allow faculty to spend more time with students and in the classroom. The union, Oregon Tech – AAUP, said that the faculty’s right to bargain over future workload changes is also protected in the contract.

The tentative contract still must go through a ratification process, Oregon Tech – AAUP said, where union members will vote on whether to accept the final contract.

OIT faculty are expected to return to work today, Wednesday, and union officials said that they are eager to get back into classrooms.

Cascade Comprehensive Care announced that Michael Donarski will be its new chief operations officer.  

Donarski will transition from his current role as director of decision support and business intelligence. Donarski will lead overall strategic and operational responsibility for CCC’s programs and services.

Prior to joining CCC, Michael served as a director of research and development for Jeld-Wen. He has more than 20 years of project management experience and has an extensive background in health plan operations, research and development, business intelligence, and operational excellence.

He is a graduate of Oregon State University, and currently volunteers with the “You Matter to Klamath” suicide coalition.

Around the state of Oregon

Several groups representing businesses and parents plan to file a lawsuit against Governor Kate Brown in an attempt to end her COVID-19 state of emergency.  

Sandy Mayor Stan Pulliam announced the lawsuit yesterday on behalf of Heart of Main Street, the Oregon Mom’s Union and other groups.  The groups say the governor can’t support her executive orders with science.  The lawsuit will be filed in federal court and will argue that a governor’s powers in a state of emergency must be narrowly defined and temporary.

Former Democratic Oregon House Speaker Dave Hunt is facing charges in connection to a human trafficking sting.  

Pamplin Media reports Hunt was one of eight men arrested for commercial sexual solicitation during the undercover operation last month.  Officers posted online decoy ads on human trafficking websites and then cited the men who contacted them to arrange payment for sexual acts.  Hunt served as speaker of the house from 2009 to 2011.  He is a current member of the board of directors of Clackamas Community College.

The University of Oregon says it is “disappointed” to learn about large crowds gathering for parties during the Ducks spring game as the region weathers a spike in cases of COVID-19 and businesses endure new restrictions.

Lane County, where the university is located, moved back to “extreme risk” on Friday, meaning that bars and restaurants were limited to outdoor dining only and normal social gathering places were off-limits. Capacity at a spring game for the Ducks football team at Autzen Stadium had been set at 15% but the new restrictions meant no spectators or tailgaters were allowed.

Instead, students packed into parties at private homes. Photos and videos of several large parties Saturday circulated on social media, showing people standing shoulder-to-shoulder and without masks.

The University of Oregon issued a statement late Sunday condemning the behavior but said there was little it could do about parties at private houses off campus.

Police have made a second arrest in connection with the murders of two Josephine County men whose remains were found in a burned-out car south of Lake Selmac at the end of March.

Oregon State Police identified the two victims as 24-year-old Daniel Hill and 26-year-old Paul Folk.

Law enforcement initially responded to calls about a vehicle fire roughly six miles up McMullen Creek Road, south of Lake Selmac. After the fire died down, detectives found the two bodies inside.

Deputies from the Josephine County Sheriff’s Office arrested 26-year-old Harley Boitz during a traffic stop in Cave Junction at the beginning of April. He was charged with multiple counts, including murder, arson, and abuse of a corpse.

On Tuesday, Oregon State Police revealed another development in the case. Around 9 a.m. on Monday, officers from multiple agencies arrested Michael Moehring in Linn County “on a warrant related to the double homicide investigation.”

The Jackson County Sheriff’s Office is continuing the search for a man who disappeared while swimming in the Rogue River on Sunday afternoon.

Deputies responded to Rock Point Bridge near Gold Hill shortly after 4 p.m., having received reports about the missing swimmer. JCSO Marine units, Search & Rescue, and Fire District 3 crews responded to assist with the search, which lasted into nightfall.

According to the Sheriff’s Office, a group from California was visiting from California and went down to the river near Rock Point Bridge that afternoon. Witnesses told investigators that they were not planning to swim, but one man decided to go into the water in order to cool off. He was identified as 21-year-old Jesus Flores-Galindo of the Lamont, California area.

After entering the river, witnesses said that Flores-Galindo suddenly went under the surface and “came up splashing.” JCSO said that Flores-Galindo may not have known how to swim, and may have stepped into a deep pool amid the cold river temperatures.

A lack of adequate shelter beds has long plagued Oregon. It was recently estimated that 10,000 people in the state sleep outside on any given night — a number that has likely increased during the pandemic.

But on Monday, Oregon lawmakers passed a bill that will make it easier and quicker for communities to create emergency shelters and temporary housing. House Bill 2006, which the Senate passed 26-1, will remove barriers to siting shelters by temporarily adjusting land use laws and waiving some design, planning and zoning regulations.

Shelters would still be required to comply with certain building codes along with meeting public health and safety requirements.

A similar bill was passed in June but expired after 90 days. The new bill, which is awaiting consideration by Gov. Kate Brown, would expire in July 2022, although shelters could remain open.

Oregon OSHA adopts rule extending COVID-19 workplace protections

Oregon OSHA logo

Oregon OSHA has adopted a rule to maintain risk-reducing safety measures for workers across the state against the coronavirus.

Although the rule includes several changes based on the public comments received since the rule was proposed in late January, the basic requirements are largely consistent with those that have been in place since Oregon OSHA adopted a temporary workplace rule in November of last year.

The rule – which will be repealed when it is no longer needed to address the COVID-19 pandemic in the workplace – takes effect today, at the end of a public process that included both stakeholder involvement and more than two months of public comment. As with the temporary rule it replaces, the rule includes such health protection measures as physical distancing; use of face coverings; employee notification and training; formal exposure risk assessment and infection control planning; and optimization and maintenance of existing ventilation systems.

One of the most significant areas of public comment concerned the lack of a specific sunset date or other trigger to automatically repeal the rule. As a result, the final rule includes considerably more detail about the process and criteria that will be used to make the decision o repeal the rule. Oregon OSHA determined that the ongoing pandemic required that the rule be extended to ensure workers receive basic protections from the workplace health hazard presented by COVID-19.

The rule went through the normal process, unlike the greatly abbreviated process allowed for a temporary rule, because Oregon state law does not allow a rule using that temporary process to be in place more than 180 days.

“We reviewed all of the comments – including the many comments that opposed the rule – and we gave particular consideration to those comments that explained their reasoning or provided concrete information,” said Michael Wood, administrator of Oregon OSHA. “Although we chose to move forward with the rule, the final product includes a number of changes based on that record.”

“At the same time, we are keeping in place key protections for workers as part of Oregon’s larger and ongoing project to defeat COVID-19,” Wood said. “To allow the workplace COVID-19 protections to simply go away would have left workers far less protected. And it would have left employers who want to know what is expected of them with a good deal less clarity than the rule provides.”

Because Oregon OSHA determined it is not possible to assign a specific time for a decision to repeal the rule, Oregon OSHA has committed to consulting with the Oregon OSHA Partnership Committee, the two Infectious Disease Rulemaking Advisory Committees, the Oregon Health Authority, and other stakeholders to help determine when the rule can be repealed. The first of these discussions will take place no later than July 2021, and will continue every two months until the rule has been repealed. The indicators factoring into the decision will include infection rates (including the rate of spread of COVID-19 variants), positivity rates, and vaccination rates, as well as hospitalizations and fatalities.

While the final rule broadly reflects the temporary rule, it also includes some significant changes. Those include:

  • Reducing the number of industry-specific appendices by six and limiting such requirements specifically to those involving worker protection (which reduced the length of the appendices, and, therefore, of the entire rule, by more than 50 pages)
  • Dramatically reducing the K-12 schools appendix and removing all references to cohorts and square footage limitations, as well as physical distancing between students.
  • Requiring employers to consider alternatives to transporting multiple people in a single vehicle and providing other guidance about reducing risk while sharing vehicles. The rule does not, however, require using multiple vehicles to transport multiple employees.
  • Requiring employers with more than 10 employees – and that have existing ventilation systems – to state in writing that, to the best of their knowledge, they are running their systems in line with requirements. The final rule does not require the purchase or installation of new ventilation systems.
  • Reducing required sanitation measures to reflect the most up-to-date Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance.
  • Requiring employers to provide written notification to employees of their rights to return to work when employees must quarantine.
  • Requiring health care employers to provide respirators to employees working with known or suspected COVID-19-positive patients, unless such respirators are unavailable.

The final rule also makes clear that the risk assessment, infection control plan, and infection control training completed under the temporary rule do not need to be repeated as a result of the adoption of the final rule.

The division offers resources to help employers and workers understand and apply the requirements. Those resources include consultation services that provide no-cost assistance with safety and health programs and technical staff, who help employers understand requirements.

Meanwhile, the division has also adopted COVID-19 workplace requirements for workers who rely on housing provided by employers, including as part of farming operations. Those requirements were adopted April 30, and will work in tandem with the comprehensive COVID-19 rule by providing specific guidance for situations involving such housing.  

Learn more about the division’s workplace guidance and resources related to COVID-19: https://osha.oregon.gov/Pages/re/covid-19.aspx

Oregon OSHA, a division of the Department of Consumer and Business Services, enforces the state’s workplace safety and health rules and works to improve workplace safety and health for all Oregon workers. For more information, go to osha.oregon.gov.

The Department of Consumer and Business Services is Oregon’s largest business regulatory and consumer protection agency. For more information, go to www.oregon.gov/dcbs/.  — Oregon Dept. of Consumer & Business Services

Oregon Extends COVID Workplace Mask Rule Indefinitely

Oregon adopted a controversial rule on Tuesday that indefinitely extends coronavirus mask and social distancing requirements for all businesses in the state.

State officials say the rule, which garnered thousands of public comments, will be in place until it is “no longer necessary to address the effects of the pandemic in the workplace.”

“We reviewed all of the comments – including the many comments that opposed the rule – and we gave particular consideration to those comments that explained their reasoning or provided concrete information,” said Michael Wood, administrator of the state’s department of Occupational Safety and Health. “Although we chose to move forward with the rule, the final product includes a number of changes based on that record.”

Oregon, which has been among those with the country’s most stringent COVID-19 restrictions, had previously had a mask rule for businesses, but it was only temporary and could not be extended beyond 180 days. That prompted Wood to create a permanent rule with the intent to repeal it at some point.

“To allow the workplace COVID-19 protections to simply go away would have left workers far less protected. And it would have left employers who want to know what is expected of them with a good deal less clarity than the rule provides,” Wood said.

But the proposal prompted a flood of angry responses, with everyone from parents to teachers to business owners and employees crying government overreach.

Wood’s agency received more than 5,000 comments —mostly critical — and nearly 70,000 residents signed a petition against the rule.

Opponents raised concerns that there is no sunset date or specific metric for when the rule would automatically be repealed. As a result, Wood said the final rule includes considerably more detail about the process and criteria that will be used to make the decision to repeal the rule.

The rule requires that employers make sure that under most circumstances people wear masks while working inside and use face coverings outside if they have to be within six feet of people. It also mandates that businesses make sure people aren’t within six feet of each other – unless that’s not practical for certain activities.

The agency said it would be considered if the rule can be repealed, starting no later than July.

Besides mask and distancing requirements, the rule — which also includes requirements and guidelines regarding air flow, ventilation, employee notification in case of an outbreak, and sanitation protocols — dovetails with separate actions and restrictions by Gov. Kate Brown, the latest being increased county risk levels.

Last week Oregon recorded the fastest-growing COVID-19 infection rate in the nation, and as a result Brown implemented further restrictions in 15 counties, including banning indoor dining at restaurants and bars and significantly decreasing capacity in gyms and indoor entertainment spaces.

The restrictions were criticized by business owners and Republican lawmakers.

On Tuesday, those counties were moved back a level, effective Friday, because the statewide seven-day average increase for hospitalized COVID-19 positive patients dropped below 15 percent. This means indoor dining and other activities will be allowed.

“With Oregonians continuing to get vaccinated each week, my expectation is that we will not return to Extreme Risk again for the duration of this pandemic,” Brown said.

So far, about one-third of Oregon’s population has been fully vaccinated.

Around 75% of the state’s staffed adult ICU beds and about 85% of the state’s staffed adult non-ICU beds are occupied, based on Oregon Health Authority data provided.

In the past month, COVID-19 hospitalizations in Oregon have more than doubled, with 345 people hospitalized with the virus as of Tuesday.

Most of Oregon Poised for Drought this Summer

More than three-fourths of Oregon is in some stage of drought entering May — and forecasters expect it to stay that way into the summer. More than 97% of Oregon is abnormally dry or worse, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.

A map shows drought is likely to persist across most of the western United States through May.
National Weather Service Climate Prediction

The National Weather Service’s Climate Prediction Center projects drought will persist across Southern, Central and Eastern Oregon and even the Willamette Valley throughout the summer. The center’s latest monthly drought outlook released Friday also shows drought is likely to develop in the northeast corner of the state.

“Drought varies from year to year in its coverage and severity,” said Brad Pugh, a meteorologist with the Climate Prediction Center. “But during the past decade, across the Western U.S., drought has become more common and more intense as well.”

Oregon saw little precipitation through March and April of this year, and once-promising snowpack levels have plummeted during an unseasonably warm, dry start to spring.

All but one watershed in the state had below-normal snowpack by the end of April. Many had about half the snowpack typical for this time of year.

Snowpack in the Malheur Basin in Eastern Oregon ended the month at just 12% of normal, the lowest in the state.

Drought results from prolonged periods of insufficient precipitation, leading to water shortages. That has implications for fish and wildlife, wildfire, irrigation, drinking water and recreation. It will force difficult decisions about how to ration water to make it through the dry season.

Those problems compound the longer drought persists, which is the issue currently facing the Klamath Basin. Year after year of drought has set the conditions for what could be one of the driest years there in the past century.

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown has declared a drought emergency in Klamath County and the U.S. Interior Department has promised “an all-hands-on-deck approach” to mitigating effects of drought in the region.

The National Resources Conservation Service is set to release Oregon’s next water supply outlook report the first week of May.

Fire-injured trees may fall prey to native beetles as drought adds to stress

Ponderosa pines show dieback caused by Ips beetles, which attack a wide variety of pines injured by fire or storms or weakened by drought. Another native insect - Douglas-fir beetle - attacks Douglas-firs whose defenses have similarly been weakened by fir

Trees injured by the Labor Day wildfires last year may face a new threat in the form of tree-killing beetles, which emerged in April looking for new homes.

ODF Forest Entomologist Christine Buhl warns that fire-injured trees can attract bark beetles, which lay their eggs under the bark. When the larvae hatch, they begin feeding on the tree, destroying the tissues needed to send water from the roots to the needles and return nutrients.

The two main culprits, both of which are native to Oregon, are:

  • Douglas-fir beetle, which attacks and kills large-diameter Douglas-fir
  • Ips beetles, some of which are lethal to small-diameter pines, including ponderosa, lodgepole, sugar and western white pine, as well as introduced pines

“These two beetles do not attack trees that are already dead but they will readily go after living trees that have been weakened by drought, storms or by being scorched or partly charred in a wildfire.”

If enough fire-injured or drought-weakened trees are available, populations of either beetle can in a year or two build up enough numbers that they can overwhelm the defenses of a healthier tree.

“Not every fire-injured stand may experience an uptick in infestation, and not every infestation will spread to healthy trees,” Buhl points out. “But the likelihood is greater when otherwise healthy trees are already struggling due to prior stress, such as drought. This is especially true on poor sites with thin or compacted soils, sun-soaked south-facing slopes, or former farmlands converted to woodlots.”

Forest landowners concerned about beetles should look for brown frass – sawdust-like piles dug out of trees by the insects. Ips, however, tend to damage smaller diameter portions of pines (tops, branches), which can make it hard to recognize an infestation until treetops begin to die. By the time trees are dying, beetles may have moved on to other trees nearby so check those, advises Buhl. Infested trees will usually die within a year or less.

Landowners can remove beetle-infested trees early to reduce the risk of a larger outbreak, taking care in pine stands to burn or chip pine that’s 3 to 8 inches in diameter. “From April through September Ips beetles can infest pine slash. So if you can’t burn or chip slash it is best to wait till just after fire season in late October or November to limb up pine trees or conduct operations that create pine slash,” Buhl recommends.

She said landowners who want to forestall an outbreak of Douglas-fir beetle next spring might want to review their situation with a specialist (ODF stewardship forester, ODF entomologist, OSU forestry extension) to determine the health of their stand and infestation levels.

Based on the review, it might be recommended that they consider buying the beetle pheromone repellant MCH. If applied in March, MCH discourages this beetle from gathering and attacking trees en masse when they emerge in April from their winter homes.

For more information about insects that affect forest trees visit https://www.oregon.gov/odf/forestbenefits/pages/foresthealth.aspxOregon Dept. of Forestry

Oregon to Receive $803,500 in American Rescue Plan Funding from the National Endowment for the Arts

The National Endowment for the Arts is recommending an award of $803,500 to the Oregon Arts Commission in the NEA’s first distribution of funds from the American Rescue Plan (ARP). This emergency rescue funding is designed to support the arts sector as it recovers from the devastating impact of the COVID-19. It is part of the $135 million allocated to the Arts Endowment which represents a significant commitment to the arts and a recognition of the value of the arts and culture sector to the nation’s economy and recovery.

“The release of these American Rescue Plan funds marks an important step in the economic recovery of the creative sector,” said NEA Acting Chair Ann Eilers. “The knowledge of the Oregon Arts Commission about the arts and culture landscape in Oregon makes it an ideal steward of federal dollars. The Arts Endowment is grateful for the continued leadership of the Oregon Arts Commission as the arts sector rebuilds in a way that works better for all arts organizations.” – https://www.oregonartscommission.org/

Bill Up For Senate Vote Would Allow Oregon Motorcyclists to Ride Between Slow Or Stopped Traffic

Motorcyclists could drive between lanes of traffic in certain conditions under a bill scheduled for a vote Wednesday in the Oregon Senate.

Senate Bill 574, sponsored by a bipartisan group of urban and rural lawmakers, lays out some very specific requirements. First, it can only happen on roads with two or more lanes of traffic heading in the same direction. Surrounding traffic has to be traveling at ten miles per hour or slower before the motorcyclist can move between the lanes.

Called “lane splitting” or “lane filtering,” the idea is to give motorcycles the ability to slip between slow or stopped vehicles. While riding between the slow or stopped traffic, motorcyclists could go up to ten miles per hour faster than surrounding vehicles. Once traffic speeds up to at least ten miles per hour, the cyclist would have to merge back into a regular lane.

Lane splitting would only be allowed on highways with a speed limit of 50 miles per hour or greater. That means most surface streets in the Portland metro area would not qualify, but freeways such as U.S. 26, Interstate 5 and Interstate 84 would.

This isn’t the first time the concept has come before lawmakers. In 2017 and 2019, the proposal failed to make it out of committee. Many of the lawmakers sponsoring Senate Bill 574 this year also sponsored the previous versions. The scheduled vote in the full Senate this week marks the proposal’s most significant advance in recent years.

Unlike some previous versions of the bill, Senate Bill 574 would not allow motorcyclists to use either the left or right shoulders of the highway to advance through slowed or stopped traffic.

Lane splitting has been legal in California for many years. Utah and Montana have legalized it more recently, although the exact parameters differ somewhat from state to state.

“I’m not a motorcyclist myself,” said one of the bill’s chief sponsors, Sen. Michael Dembrow, D-Portland. “But I am interested in motorcycles being one of the tools that we can use to reduce congestion and reduce reliance on single-occupancy cars.”

More than a hundred people submitted testimony in favor of the bill. Many motorcyclists said they feel vulnerable when sitting at the end of a line of stopped traffic. Being able to move ahead through the backup would make them less vulnerable to rear-end collisions, they argue.

But not everyone on the road is a fan of the idea.

“Motorcycles, when they split lanes, often pass on the right-hand side of a heavy truck, without realizing the blind spot that exists for a truck driver,” said Jana Jarvis, president of the Oregon Trucking Association. “They are simply not visible.”

Jarvis said if a truck is moving to the right in slowed traffic to get around an accident or lane closure, they would have little chance of seeing a motorcycle driving just inches away from its right side. “The consequences would be severe for a motorcyclist, and life-impacting for the driver of the truck,” she said.

Oregon Cannabis Sales Sets New Monthly Record in April

Oregon’s cannabis industry has set another monthly sales record, reaching $110.4 million in April.

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Taxed adult-use sales also cracked the $100 million mark for the first time, at $100.3 million, according to preliminary data from the Oregon Liquor Control Commission.

It was the second straight month of record sales — just topping a revised $109.6 million for combined adult-use and medical sales in March — amid government stimulus and an improving economy.

A pandemic boom last year brought several monthly records.

With the 4/20 cannabis “holiday,” April always brings big promotional efforts by retailers. But sales this April were 23% higher than last year and a whopping 77% higher than April 2019.

For the first four months of 2021, sales are running 31% above last year, at $409.4 million.

About 91.2% of that total, $373.4 million, was spent on adult-use products that are taxed at 17% by the state and 3% by cities or counties. Medical sales are not taxed.

State economists recently forecast $301 million in cannabis tax collections in the two-year budget period that ends June 30, but the spring uptick appears likely to push the total past that. In the 2018-19 biennium, the tax brought in $184.3 million.

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