Klamath Basin News, Wednesday, 10/6 – Bureau of Reclamation Pledges Another $5 Million Drought Relief Funds in the Klamath Basin; Klamath County Sees Another 113 Covid Cases Overnight

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Wednesday, October 6, 2021

Klamath Basin Weather

Today A 30% chance of showers before 11am. Snow level 6200 feet. Partly sunny, with a high near 59. Overnight, cloudy with a low around 35.

Thursday Mostly sunny, with a high near 62. Light and variable wind.
Friday Mostly sunny, with a high near 62.
Saturday Mostly sunny, with a high near 62.
Sunday A slight chance of rain. Mostly sunny, with a high near 63.

Today’s Headlines

The federal Bureau of Reclamation has pledged another $5 million toward drought relief in the Klamath Basin as farmers and other stakeholders in the region continue to grapple with a major shortage of water.

Reclamation previously awarded $15 million toward the Klamath Project Drought Response Agency, and the additional $5 million will join those funds. KPDRA is tasked with distributing the fund to irrigators in Oregon and California who are without an external water supply due to the drought. Reclamation said that the initial funds will be distributed on a per-acre basis later this year.

Growers in the Klamath Basin were incensed in May when Reclamation announced that it would not divert water from Upper Klamath Lake into the “A Canal,” which would normally supply water to to irrigators within the project, as well as the Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuge between Tulelake and Dorris.

Without water from the lake, growers either had to turn to using or digging wells — which have also gone increasingly dry this year — or leaving their fields fallow in hopes of relief funding.

In addition to the previous $15 million from Reclamation, the US Department of Agriculture put $15 million into the Klamath Project Drought Response Agency this year.

There are 44 new COVID-19 related deaths in Oregon, raising the state’s death toll to 3,867, the Oregon Health Authority reported on Tuesday. Oregon Health Authority also reported 1,650 new confirmed and presumptive cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday, bringing the state total to 336,598.

New cases in Southern Oregon overnight:  Klamath (113), Jackson  County (81), Josephine (7), Lake (19) new cases.

The new confirmed and presumptive COVID-19 cases reported today are in the following counties: Baker (10), Benton (14), Clackamas (119), Clatsop (8), Columbia (17), Coos (30), Crook (55), Curry (11), Deschutes (100), Douglas (68), Grant (2), Harney (16), Hood River (7), Jackson (81), Jefferson (5), Josephine (7), Klamath (113), Lake (19), Lane (132), Lincoln (8), Linn (71), Malheur (70), Marion (154), Morrow (7), Multnomah (126), Polk (49), Sherman (3), Tillamook (3), Umatilla (110), Union (10), Wallowa (2), Wasco (28), Washington (131), Wheeler (3) and Yamhill (61). 

The number of hospitalized patients with COVID-19 across Oregon is 733, which is 36 fewer than Monday. There are 186 COVID-19 patients in intensive care unit (ICU) beds, which is 21 fewer than day prior.

Vaccinations in Oregon 

Today, OHA reported that 10,502 new doses of COVID-19 vaccinations were added to the state immunization registry on Oct. 4. 

Sky Lakes Medical Center managed to get a handle on the current COVID surge, however local case numbers and hospitalizations are forecast to continue to increase steadily and keep hospitals full statewide through December.

A new forecast released last week by Oregon Health and Science University in Portland anticipates hospitals statewide will remain “extremely full” until the end of the year.

Locally, Klamath County is seeing a steady rise in cases. And while hospitalizations are moderating somewhat, the trend is consistently edging upward.

It’s like a “rising river,” said Tom Hottman, public information officer for Sky Lakes Medical Center. “And it’s heading towards flood stage.”

Fortunately, Hottman said that the extra clinical assistance sent from the state, in cooperation with the federal government, as well as non-clinical assistance from the National Guard, has proven very beneficial.

As of Monday, Oct. 4, there were 27 total COVID-positive patients at Sky Lakes, five of them receiving intensive care. Five of the 27 patients are vaccinated, and one vaccinated patient is receiving intensive care.

Though the deadline for Oregon’s vaccine mandate is October 18, this Monday marks the last date that workers covered by the requirement can get a shot and be considered fully vaccinated by the deadline. Otherwise, workers will need to get one of the allowed exemptions to avoid a potential leave of absence — perhaps even losing their jobs entirely.

Governor Kate Brown first announced a vaccine requirement for state workers without an option for regular testing on August 10, and it was later expanded to include all healthcare workers and K-12 school staff. In both cases, the deadline for full vaccination was October 18.

Governor Kate Brown first announced a vaccine requirement for state workers without an option for regular testing on August 10, and it was later expanded to include all healthcare workers and K-12 school staff. In both cases, the deadline for full vaccination was October 18.

With the deadline still ahead, it has been difficult to know how the mandate will shake out in southern Oregon — whether there will be widespread compliance or a cascade of even more staffing shortages as those who refuse to get the vaccine are suspended or terminated from their jobs.

Based on the timeline for each vaccine, workers covered by the mandate either needed to have their second shot of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine by October 4, or get their one-dose Johnson & Johnson shot. For all of the vaccines, the CDC considers someone fully vaccinated two weeks after that dose.

Meanwhile, while cases in Klamath County are still problematic, the number of newly identified coronavirus cases has declined in Oregon for a fifth week in a row.

Oregon recorded about 10,400 cases in the last week, a 9% drop from a week earlier. That includes the 3,286 cases announced Monday by the Oregon Health Authority for the preceding three days.

The Oregonian/OregonLive reports the state’s summer coronavirus rise and autumn decline generally mirror the national trend. But the highly transmissible delta variant proved troublesome for Oregon, producing the state’s highest case counts and hospitalizations of the pandemic.

While confirmed and presumed infections have been falling for weeks, the rates of weekly declines have been modest, ranging from 11% to just 2%.

Diamond Home Improvement donated $5,000 to Ella Redkey Pool’s outdoor pavilion. The one-of-a-kind, multi-use pavilion will be used as an outdoor classroom and gathering space.

It will be initially constructed as an open-air structure but designed with the capability of being enclosed in the future for year-round use. Classes and programs will include: • First Aid, CPR & AED • Lifeguarding • Afterschool activities • Fitness classes • Team-building workshops • Summer camps

The pavilion will facilitate a variety of programs that focus on water safety, active recreation, and healthy living. It will also serve as a reservable space for family reunions, birthday parties, swim meets, and more.

Around the state of Oregon

Study Shows Air Quality in Southern Oregon Continues to Decline

The air quality in Southern Oregon is continuing to go from bad to worse according to the latest data by the Oregon Student Public Interest Research Group, (OSPIRG).

According to the study, the Medford area suffered through 41 days of hazardous air quality in 2020. Each day increases the risks of things like asthma attacks and cancer, and the Rogue Valley isn’t only place being hard hit.

“Especially in Klamath Falls, there were over 100 days of bad quality air in that area of the state. It was also incredibly bad in the Portland area and some other more rural areas. Those were really eye opening results,” said OSPIRG Associate Sophie Goodwin-Rice.

Part of the issue is unavoidable, as the Rogue Valley sits in an inversion layer that traps particulate matter. But the air quality has only gotten worse in recent years as wildfires and the accompanying smoke become a more constant threat in Southern Oregon.

“It’s a daily, in your face problem for a lot of residents in the Rogue Valley, elderly and respiratory compromised people. And it deeply affects the quality of life. I think long-term in a cumulative way it affects all of us,” said Oregon State Sen. Jeff Golden. (D – Ashland)

Golden says the legislature is looking to begin purchasing home filtration systems for those who need it, and creating clean air shelters where people can go during severe smoke events.

“We’re at the beginning of what I think will be a very ambitious rollout for an electric vehicle charging network. We don’t have what we need right now,” he said.

In the report, researchers reviewed EPA air pollution records from across the country. The Medford area also saw 13 days of elevated exposure to ozone, which can cause a number of respiratory problems.

The analysis found that as the COVID pandemic significantly reduced emissions in 2020, with more people staying in and driving vehicles less, poor air quality persisted around the country.

According to the report, 237.6 million Americans, or more than 70% of the population, were exposed to at least a month of elevated ozone levels and/or fine particulate pollution in 2020.

“Even though things are really bad right now, they don’t have to be bad forever. We have the ability, especially in Congress, to make sure there aren’t more dirty air days, and more clean air days as they’re moving forward.” Goodwin-Rice said.

This summer, the Oregon legislature committed to making the state 100% clean energy efficient by 2040. Gov. Brown also signed a wildfire bill this year that includes funding for “clean air” shelters and air filtration systems for low-income families.

Medford Shooting Investigation Update

Five of eleven suspects in a shooting at Fichtner-Mainwaring park on September 7 are wanted by Medford police. Meanwhile, five individuals have already turned themselves in while an additional one person remains hospitalized for injuries sustained during the incident.

Eleven suspects have been indicted for their involvement in the shooting at Fichtner-Mainwaring Park from September 7th 2021.

The case was presented to a Grand Jury on Wednesday, September 29th, and indictments were files. On Friday, October 1st, warrants were obtained for the arrest of the eleven suspects. So far, five suspects have turn themselves in, with one additional remaining hospitalized. Five others remain outstanding and are encouraged to turn themselves in.

The investigation revealed that this case involved two rival groups, who were known to each other and involved in an ongoing dispute, part of which is gang related. On the evening of September 7th, 2021 two individuals were seated in a vehicle, in the Fichtner-Mainwaring parking lot, when the rival group spotted them without their knowledge. This rival group summoned additional support, eventually growing the group to 11 people. The group planned to attack the two individuals who were still seated in their car in the parking lot. At least two individuals in this group were armed with a firearm.

When the group of 11 approached the two individuals in the car, both groups fired at each other, with a total of four people firing a handgun. The shooting lasted just seconds, and approximately 20 rounds were fired. 

Four people sustained gunshot wounds, three from the approaching group, and one in a vehicle. One male was transported by ambulance and the other three sought medical attention on their own. Listed are the following suspects and charges:

  • Dixon, Marlon Vaugh, 21 years old. Charged with Riot. Turned self in.
  • Wagner, Christian Warren, 20 years old. Charged with Riot. Outstanding
  • Swift, Bradley Allen, 19 years old. Charged with Riot and Unlawful Use of a Weapon. Hospitalized. 
  • Lynch Castro, Joshuah Kadence, 18 years old. Charged with Riot and Unlawful Use of a Weapon. Outstanding.
  • Cady, Austin Wesley, 21 years old. Charged with Riot. Turned self in.
  • Perezchica, Lyannah Agustina, 18 years old. Charged with Riot. Outstanding.
  • Clemons, Sahara Jade, 18 years old. Charged with Riot. Turned self in.
  • Lapizco, Jose Maria, 19 years old. Charged with Riot. Turned self in.
  • Pasmant, Unique Shy Love, 19 years old. Charged with Riot. Turned self in.
  • Lamas, Moses Emanuel, 19 years old. Charged with Riot. Outstanding.
  • Houston, Marcus Darryl, 19 years old. Charged with Riot. Outstanding.

More serious charges could not be brought forward due to the victims’ reluctance to cooperate with investigators. 

Tuesday was officially the last day of the Western Oregon fire season.

This area includes the West Oregon, Western Lane, and South Cascade districts of the Oregon Department of Forestry. They cover Lane, Benton, Lincoln, and Polk counties and the southern part of Linn and Yamhill counties.

With the end of fire season, industrial fire precautions and restrictions ended on October 5.

The North Cascade and Northwest Oregon districts, which includes the Portland metro, ended their fire season back on October 1.

District officials say recent rain has helped suppress the fire danger, though people are still encouraged to be careful when burning anything outdoors. Wildfires can still happen outside of fire season.

Much of Eastern Oregon is still in fire season.

Oregon Still Processing Rent Assistance Applications but Most Renters Still Waiting for Aid

Oregon has made a significant effort in tackling a massive rent assistance backlog over the last month. Hopefully enough to persuade the federal government that the state should keep its funding for the program, and perhaps receive more.

But some Oregon counties that received rent assistance directly from the federal government still lag expectations. Those counties may have to return a portion of their funding, even as thousands of renters still report that they need the funds to stave off evictions.

And despite the state’s progress, renters who have applied for help could lose their eviction protections before the money arrives.

Oregon received $204 million from the federal government for its latest rent assistance program. It had paid out or allocated about 71% of those funds as of Sept. 30 when factoring in administrative costs, according to the state. Roughly, 37% of the available money has actually reached landlords on behalf of renters.

Based on new guidance from the U.S. Department of the Treasury released Monday, that should be enough for the state to retain the entirety of its funding. The Treasury Department said states, counties and cities that had not paid out at least 30% of their federal funds and allocated at least 65% of their money by Sept. 30, when factoring in administrative costs, could be forced to return funding.

States that had allocated at least 65% of their funds by Sept. 30 can begin requesting more money from the federal government this month — something Oregon plans to do.

Oregon has already been granted another $156 million from the federal government for a new round of rent assistance this fall. Margaret Salazar, executive director for Oregon Housing and Community Services, the state agency overseeing the rent assistance programs, said that money could be gone within the next month and a half if the state continues to see the same rate of applications that it has seen in recent weeks.

“The program funds are rapidly depleting,” Salazar said. “If we continue to see 1,000 to 2,000 new applications each week, funds will be fully requested in 3-6 weeks.”

Oregon has struggled to get rent assistance dollars out the door since it opened applications for the Oregon Emergency Rental Assistance Program in May due to issues with a new state software program and unprecedented demand. But the state has been working with its local partners and an outside vendor, Public Partnerships LLC, to speed up the processing of applications in recent weeks. Those efforts seem to be working.

Only seven states in the country had allocated or paid out a larger percentage of their federal rent assistance dollars than Oregon as of Oct. 4, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition. That’s a massive improvement from just two and a half weeks ago when Oregon ranked 26th in the country based on the percentage of rent assistance money it had allocated.

But while Oregon’s recent rental assistance push should prevent it from losing federal funding, some counties that received federal rent assistance funds have been much slower at getting money out the door.

Marion County received $10.4 million from the federal government this spring to distribute to renters. The county hadn’t paid out any of those funds as of Aug. 31, according to U.S. Treasury.

Eviction filings have increased significantly since Oregon’s moratorium on evictions expired at the end of June. There were 361 eviction filings for nonpayment across the state in July, 463 in August and 473 in September, according to the Oregon Law Center. Those numbers don’t include renters who vacate their homes before their landlords can take them to court.

Becky Straus, an attorney for the Oregon Law Center, told lawmakers Monday that the nonprofit is starting to now see more eviction filings in cases where renters have lost their eviction protections. She said she recently was able to work with the state to get a client’s rent assistance application expedited after the client lost her 60-day protection but said other renters may not be as lucky.

Oregon’s Counties Worry Covid Vaccine Mandate Will Cause Staffing Shortages

Fearing the state’s vaccination deadline will cause teachers, health care workers and first responders to quit in droves, cities and counties are declaring emergencies. State officials say they can’t step in to help unless local governments are overwhelmed.

Rural counties that fear first responders will quit in bulk ahead of a mid-October vaccine mandate need to come up with their own solutions instead of relying on the state, according to state officials.

Several rural counties have already declared emergencies based on their conclusion that firefighters, paramedics, teachers and health care workers will resign by Oct. 18 instead of getting vaccinated for COVID-19.

The state Office of Emergency Management maintains that cities and counties are responsible under law to provide emergency services for their citizens, and the state should only step in when local governments are overwhelmed. Spokeswoman Chris Crabb wrote in an email that the office will evaluate requests for help from local governments, but they should try first to solve their own problems. 

“We expect divisions of local government to maintain their statutory responsibilities, initiate continuity of operations plans that address staffing shortfalls and the prioritization of critical services, and leverage resources available through mutual aid and the private sector before elevating requests for assistance to the state,” Crabb wrote. 

If cities or counties become overwhelmed, they’ll reach out to the agency’s Oregon Emergency Response System to request state or federal assistance, she said. The agency prioritizes requests related to saving lives. 

Gov. Kate Brown already deployed hundreds of Oregon National Guard members to assist hospitals with COVID-19 surges in the late summer, but it’s unclear whether they’ll be on hand to assist with any staffing shortages caused by vaccine mandates.

Charles Boyle, a spokesman for the governor’s office, said in an emailed statement that Brown’s mandate responds to a public health crisis and that outbreaks are already disrupting the workforce. The vaccine requirements aim to ensure as many Oregonians as possible are vaccinated, he said. 

“If critical first responders are quarantined or hospitalized for COVID-19, who will be left to respond to emergencies in rural communities?” Boyle asked. 

Brown’s orders covered health care workers, school staff and state employees, and the Oregon Health Authority interpreted the mandate as likely not applying to city police officers or county sheriff’s deputies. While police officers may have medical training, providing medical care likely isn’t a fundamental part of their job and therefore the mandate doesn’t apply, the agency determined. 

State troopers, however, are state employees and subject to a vaccine mandate. Nearly three dozen officers are now suing Brown over the vaccine mandate, with court arguments set to begin in early October.

Oregon State Police Capt. Stephanie Bigman, an agency spokeswoman, said the agency would rely on its Emergency Operations Plan to deal with any large loss of troopers. She declined to share a copy of that plan without a public records request that typically would take several weeks to process.

During the week of October 12, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service plans to conduct a prescribed burn at Bear Valley National Wildlife Refuge.

In an effort to lessen future wildfire hazards and enhance forest health, 224 acres of understory vegetation will be burned. Operations may take from one to three days with residual smoke visible in the area.

This prescribed burn will be accomplished by a team of trained wildland fire fighters from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. It will occur in a controlled manner under a tight set of prescribed conditions, which minimize impacts to wildlife and the public. The exact day of the burn is dependent on favorable weather conditions and may occur anytime between October 12-30.

On Monday, October 4, 2021 at approximately 9:46 AM, Oregon State Police Troopers and emergency personnel responded to a single vehicle crash on Interstate 5 near milepost 122.

Preliminary investigation revealed a southbound Ford F150, operated by Thomas Kelly (74) of Canyonville, left the roadway for an unknown reason, struck the embankment and rolled. 

Kelly sustained fatal injuries and was pronounced deceased.  OSP was assisted by ODOT. 

Voting is underway for more than three-thousand nurses and health care workers for Kaiser Permanente on whether to go on strike.

Members for the Oregon Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals will vote over the next several days after voting began last night. The union and the hospital network are at odds over key issues, including safe staffing levels and wages. The final tally on the strike vote may not be known until next week.

The Oregon Zoo has a new director. The zoo announced yesterday that Heidi Rahn will replace Don Moore, who retired last year after a 45-year career in animal welfare science and wildlife conservation.

Rahn previously worked at the zoo from 2013 to 2018 as head of Metro’s 125-million dollar zoo bond program. Under her leadership, the zoo opened some of its most iconic areas including Condors of the Columbia, Elephant Lands, and the Education Center.

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