Klamath Basin News, Tuesday, 1/18 – Oregon Breakthrough COVID-19 Cases Up 86% In 1 Week

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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.

Tuesday, January 18, 2022

Klamath Basin Weather

Today Mostly sunny, with a high near 46. Overnight, mostly cloudy with a low around 29. Calm wind.

Wednesday Partly sunny, with a high near 46. Calm wind.
Thursday Mostly sunny, with a high near 51.
Friday Mostly sunny, with a high near 48.
Saturday Sunny, with a high near 48.

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Hiway 97 at GreenSprings Dr. (Bi-pass)
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Hiway 97 at Chemult   
Hiway 140 at  Bly
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Today’s Headlines

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The Oregon Health Authority has not released new statistics since Friday and we are waiting for updates.

Oregon Breakthrough COVID-19 Cases Up 86% In 1 Week

A growing number of fully vaccinated residents in Oregon are testing positive for COVID-19, with “breakthrough cases” increasing by 86% over the past week, state data showed.

A vaccine “breakthrough case” is defined as an instance when an individual who has completed a COVID-19 vaccine series tests positive for the virus. But while breakthrough infections are rising, health experts still urge people to get vaccinated. Health experts note that many fully vaccinated residents have minimal to no symptoms. 

Between Jan. 2 and 8, health officials in Oregon recorded 11,971 breakthrough COVID-19 infections, representing 26.4% of all cases reported statewide during the same period. In comparison, there were only 6,419 cases among the fully vaccinated the week before. 

At least 0.4% of breakthrough cases between Jan. 2 and 8 occurred in fully vaccinated residents of care facilities and senior living communities. People aged 65 and older represented 10% of the week’s breakthrough infections while children aged 12 to 17 made up 8.2% of the total cases, according to the latest COVID-19 Breakthrough Report from the Oregon Health Authority.

Overall, there have been 72,683 breakthrough COVID-19 cases in the state. The median age of infections among the fully vaccinated is 44 years. 

A vaccine breakthrough case is defined as an instance when an individual who has completed a COVID-19 vaccine series tests positive for the virus. But while breakthrough infections are rising, health experts still urge people to get vaccinated. Health experts note that many fully vaccinated residents have minimal to no symptoms. 

The health authority’s report comes as schools in Oregon struggle to keep students on campus after many students and teachers call in sick due to the spread of the Omicron COVID-19 variant. 

Child cases of COVID-19 are also rising sharply among students between the ages of 12 and 17 despite statewide mask mandates in campuses. The number of infections is now straining hospitals in Oregon as an increasing number of medical staff members also call in sick.

As of Friday, only 6% of staffed intensive care units were available statewide. In Multnomah, Washington, Tillamook, Clackamas, Clatsop and Columbia counties, only 5% of beds in the ICU were available.

In the southern areas of Oregon — including Benton, Lincoln, Linn, Marion, Polk and Yamhill counties — only two ICU beds were free, OHA data showed.

Gov. Kate Brown, D-Ore., has deployed more than 1,200 National Guard members to assist with hospitals’ staffing challenges.

Oregon has started receiving the six-million rapid COVID-19 test kits it purchased, but most Oregonians won’t get them.

Oregon Health Authority Director Patrick Allen says they’ll go to hospitals and clinics around the state that help under served communities. All six-million test kits will arrive in the state by the end of January.

Allen says: “if you can’t get a test, but think you have COVID-19 you should isolate for five days and then wear a mask for five days”.

Oregon health and education officials will further loosen some COVID-19 policies in K-12 schools as the Omicron variant increasingly causes infections and widespread quarantines among students and staff.

The new guidance released Friday changes the definition of an “exposure” to someone positive for COVID-19. Instead of an exposure referring to close contact of any kind, it will now only apply to unmasked contact in schools.

According to ODE, the new recommendations are intended to ease the contact tracing burden for administrators and public health staff. Now the focus will be placed on unmasked exposures, particularly during mealtimes or extracurricular activities such as band, welding, or sports.

The Oregon Health Authority has also decided that schools will no longer have to report negative antigen test results to the agency, only positive cases. People exposed to COVID-19 at school remain eligible for test to stay and can continue to attend school during their modified quarantine period, officials said. According to OHA, the guidance is expected to take effect Friday.

Recreation visits to Crater Lake National Park for 2021 totaled 647,651.

Recreation visits at Crater Lake National Park in 2021 were the lowest in several years, but still well above historic averages.

Recreation visits for 2021 totaled 647,651, which was more any year prior to 2016 — but the lowest in recent years. The total number of visits recorded in 2020 was 670,500.

The park had seen steep increases in visitation in the past five years, with a record 756,344 in 2016 and three other years topping more than 700,000. Until 2012, the numbers never reached 500,000.

Heavy snows and road closures in December and the Christmas holiday “very much impacted visitation for the month of December,” according to a park official who noted the Christmas-New Year’s season generally sees large numbers of visitors.

Visitors are also reminded to be prepared for winter driving conditions. Denniston said that in recent years, rangers have seen trends where many visitors are less prepared, which has resulted in an increase in accidents on often icy, snow-covered roads. People also are reminded that Rim Village concession facilities, including the Crater Lake Café-Gift Shop, currently are open Thursday through Monday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., with the café closing at 3 p.m.

Plans for summer are moving ahead, with Denniston saying park officials are trying to be positive despite the uncertainties created by ongoing and changing COVID restrictions. No winter programs, such as ranger-guided snowshoe hikes, are being offered this winter and it’s not known if summer programs will be possible.

United Way officials announced it will hold its 77th annual luncheon meeting of its board of directors and supporters on Tuesday, Jan. 25 at noon at the Waffle Hut according to a release.

Reservations are required by Jan. 20 by contacting United Way at 541-882-5558 or stopping by the office at 136 N. Third Street. The cost of the luncheon is $15 per person.

The event will focus on honoring and presenting Spirit awards to 28 workplaces for achieving a minimum $250 and a 5% increase in their annual employee campaign contributions.

Campaign Chairperson Amber Gomes, vice-president of community relations for Umpqua Bank will also recognize the 2021 campaign volunteer of the year. Lauren Jespersen, foundation director of Sky Lakes Medical Center and the 2021 board president, will present the United Way Lifetime Achievement award to retired AmeriTitle vice president/general manager Jean Phillips for her 23 years of service on the United Way board of directors.

Contributions can be sent to United Way of the Klamath Basin at 136 N. Third Street in Klamath Falls, OR 97601. The tax ID number is 93-0441766. For more information people are encouraged to visit its web site at www.unitedwayoftheklamathbasin.org,

Concluding the luncheon, United Way board officers for 2022 will be recognized with Amber Gomes as president; Jenine Stuedli, first vice president; Juan Maldonado, second vice president; Mitch Stokes, treasurer; and Sheri Hargrave, secretary.

News organizations and nonprofit groups in Oregon have teamed up to learn what voters want candidates for governor to be talking about as they compete for votes, according to the Herald and News.

They seek Oregonians to participate in a “Let’s Talk” 90-minute virtual listening session soon to share their understanding of the race through the media. There is no cost to join in this nonpartisan event.

Voters would join others via the Zoom platform to discuss off the record what information they want to know about the candidates — and what they don’t want to hear. The intent is for news organizations to provide reporting in the coming months that serves the interests and needs of Oregonians, instead of candidates and their campaigns.

The governor’s race promises to be one of the most important in recent Oregon history with several high-profile candidates and a state reeling from the pandemic and political divides.

The effort is led by the Oregon Capital Chronicle, a nonprofit digital news service focused on state government and politics; Rural Development Initiatives, a nonprofit focused on community vitality in rural Oregon; and the Agora Journalism Center, part of the University of Oregon School of Journalism and Communication in Portland.

The Herald and News is participating as a host.

Around the state of Oregon

The Oregon House Democrats elected Rep. Dan Rayfield (D-Corvallis) to serve as the Speaker of the Oregon House of Representatives and Rep. Julie Fahey (D- West Eugene, Junction City) to serve as the Majority Leader, the House announced this week.

Both the former House Speaker, Tina Kotek, and Majority Leader Rep. Barbara Smith Warner have stepped down and are being replaced by the newly elected representatives.

Kotek will step away from the legislature on Jan. 21. She is the longest-serving House Speaker in Oregon history. She is currently running for Oregon Governor to replace term-limited current governor Kate Brown.

Rep. Rayfield was elected to the legislature in 2014 and represents House District 16, comprising Corvallis and Philomath.

He has also served as co-chair of the Committee on Ways and Means, which deals with the state’s budget, since 2019.

Kotek’s resignation will be effective on Jan. 22 and until an official nomination is made on the House floor on Feb. 1 when the 2022 legislative session convenes, Paul Holvey (D-Eugene) will serve as the Speaker.

Statewide transportation plan online open house available through Jan. 24

Oregonians are invited to help shape the future of Oregon’s transportation system. How can you weigh in? Give us feedback as we update the long-term Oregon Transportation Plan. An online open house is taking input through Jan. 24 in this first of several outreach opportunities over the next 12-18 months.

Why is this plan important? Our transportation system provides access to jobs, healthcare, childcare, food, housing, recreation and leisure activities, and it plays a critical role in a healthy economy.

The Oregon Transportation Plan, or OTP, sets the long-term transportation policy for the whole state. Updating the OTP will result in a plan that can adapt to the variables we experience over time, such as climate change, social equity concerns, Oregon’s growing population, new technologies and more. The plan will also provide guidance for the state’s other transportation plans, including near-term action documents such as ODOT’s Strategic Action Plan.

We invite all Oregonians to learn more about the plan by visiting the online open house and watching the project video.

ODF Awards National Forest $100,000 To Help Reduce Wildfire Risk In Medford’s Watershed

The Oregon Department of Forestry has given $100,000 to the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest (RRSNF) for forest restoration work that will reduce catastrophic wildfire risk on 20,000 acres of the Big Butte Springs watershed, which is the year-round source of water for Medford and surrounding communities.

The award is under the Planning Assistance and Categorical Exclusion or PACE funds administered by ODF’s Federal Forest Restoration (FFR) Program.

Kyle Sullivan, who leads ODF’s FFR Program, said “PACE investments provide contracting opportunities that assist federal forest managers to expand and accelerate planning efforts for forest restoration treatments. 

The Snowy Butte Forest Restoration Project will reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfire risk in the watershed supplying Medford and communities near it with drinking water.”

Sullivan said ODF received 18 project proposals for PACE funds for this year, totaling $1,085,480. Through a competitive selection process, ODF was able to award a total of $622,895 to the nine top projects. 

“These will help the Forest Service plan faster, for more acres, and/or for more complex projects,” said Sullivan. “These PACE investments work to alleviate a key bottleneck to forest restoration efforts in Oregon: the National Environmental Policy Act planning process.”

The highest scored proposal was submitted by the High Cascades Ranger District in the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest.  The project rated high due to strong partnerships and matching funds contributed through the non-profit Blue Forest Conservation and the Medford Water Commission (MWC). The awarded funds ($100,000) will be used to conduct 2,000 acres of heritage surveys, thus increasing the project footprint.   

“We’re very excited to receive the additional funding from ODF for this project,” said USDA Forest Service District Ranger Dave Palmer. “The project area provides drinking water to 140,000 people in the Rogue Valley, so there’s an immediate need to reduce wildfire risk as soon as possible.”

The goal of the project is to treat approximately 20,000 acres, which amounts to one-third of the watershed. The work includes non-commercial fuels reduction, habitat restoration, silviculture treatments, and fuel breaks, which are designed to reduce risk of catastrophic wildfire, protect drinking water quality, and promote resilience against stressors such as drought and insects. The project on this scale is necessary to achieving the level of widespread resilience necessary for sustaining and protecting this critical watershed. 

Given the importance of the watershed as a drinking water source, the project has enjoyed widespread support and significant engagement from local partners including: 

  • Medford Water Commission
  • Southern Oregon Forest Restoration Collaborative (SOFRC)
  • The Nature Conservancy
  • Lomakatsi Restoration
  • Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife
  • American Forest Resource Council.

The watershed is identified as a priority area in the Rogue Basin Cohesive Forest Restoration Strategy, published by the collaborative in 2017. Oregon Dept. of Forestry

Construction Begins Today on Ashland I-5 Emergency Evacuation Ramp

Interstate 5 Mountain Avenue overpass Ashland (ODOT photo)

A road construction project that became especially pressing in the wake of the Almeda Fire is set to begin Tuesday. The Oregon Department of Transportation said that crews are set to begin building an emergency evacuation ramp from Mountain Avenue to I-5 southbound.

ODOT says that the $100,000 project will help address Ashland’s evacuation needs in the case of an emergency — another major wildfire, earthquake, or some other disaster that requires citywide evacuation.

The project will provide a one-way ramp from Mountain Avenue to the interstate, giving Ashland residents an evacuation route to I-5 between the two I-5 Exits, 14 and 19.

“The need for the evacuation ramp became apparent after the 2020 Almeda Fire, which began in north Ashland,” ODOT said. “The ramp will be gated and locked when not in use for emergencies.”

The state agency said that it will be working with City of Ashland crews to build the on-ramp as weather permits so that it will be ready in time for the coming Fire Season.

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