Child advocates in Oregon say reports of child abuse in the state are down 70 percent since shutdowns of schools due to COVID-19 took place, and many are worried that cases of abuse are now going unreported. Beatriz Lynch of the Columbia Gorge Children’s Advocacy Center says they need community members to keep an eye out for children who may need help. Lynch asks the community to check on vulnerable children and ask them if they are OK. Oregon’s child abuse hotline number is 855-503-7233, and is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
The application window for businesses to receive a Paycheck Protection Program loan, part of the federal coronavirus economic stimulus package approved last week, will start on Friday. The Small Business Administration has published information on the program on its sba.gov website. The Paycheck Protection Program is a loan designed to provide a direct incentive for small businesses to keep their workers on the payroll. SBA will forgive loans if all employees are kept on the payroll for eight weeks and the money is used for payroll, rent, mortgage interest, or utilities. The Dalles Area Chamber of Commerce CEO Lisa Farquharson says business owners should be making appointments with their lenders now, while noting not all bankers have received their rollout information. Farquharson says businesses can download the applications from the Chamber’s website or home.treasury.gov, and other information on dealing with coronavirus impacts is available at uschamber.com.
Oregon’s section of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development is involved with helping people who have been impacted by the coronavirus outbreak. Director John Huffman says they have thousands of homeowners who received their loan through USDA Rural Development who may be having difficulty making payments until stimulus dollars come in. They are receiving letters from Rural Development outlining various options. Huffman says Rural Development is getting guidance on a daily basis on helping both individuals and those with business loans through them. A website has been set up to provide information on Rural Development loan payment assistance at rd.usda.gov/coronavirus.
The Washington State Department of Heatlh has started to be able to update its COVID-19 statistics after its system became overwhelmed by in particular the number of negative tests it was computing. In its latest numbers, as of the end of Tuesday there had been 5,984 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Washington, with 247 fatalities. Out of nearly 75,000 tests done for COVID-19, eight percent had tested positive. Klickitat County had eight confirmed cases of coronavirus, with one fatality that was reported over the weekend, and 6.8 percent of the 117 COVID-19 tests done in the County had come back positive. Skamania County remains at one confirmed case of COVID-19 out of 29 tests that have been done. County officials say that patient is a male in his 40’s, and is symptomatic but not hospitalized. He has been self- quarantined, as has his immediate family members.
Revised numbers Wednesday from the Oregon Health Authority dropped the number of COVID-19 cases attributed to Hood River County from three to two. The OHA explains the case that had been attributed to Hood River County was from out of state. Wasco County remained at seven cases, while none have been reported in Sherman and Gilliam counties. The OHA reported 47 new COVID-19 cases in the state, moving the statewide case count to 736. The 19th fatality in Oregon as a result of the virus was also reported, a 70-year-old woman in Multnomah County with underlying medical conditions. The OHA also said that updated projections from health researchers show that there is “strong evidence that measures currently in place in Oregon are reducing transmission.” The most recent data suggest that current social distancing measures could cut transmission rates between 50 to 70 percent if Oregonians maintain the limitations on virus-spreading interactions into early May, which would allow the state to meet the likely demand for hospital beds under current strategies. The models state health officials released today were prepared by the Institute for Disease Modeling, based in Washington.
Hood River County Commissioners will hold a special online meeting Thursday at 5 p.m. to consider orders to close short-term rentals and hotels within the County and the County forestlands to recreation. The short-term rental closure would be in a line with action taken last week by the City of Hood River, and a forestland closure would make the County consistent with other agencies that have closed public lands during the COVID-19 crisis to maintain social distancing. During a worksession Wednesday afternoon, Commission Chair Mike Oates said he was concerned about having the only open public lands in the Gorge, and how many people could be attracted from out of the area. Information on how to log in to Thursday’s meeting is available at the Hood River County website.
The Northern Wasco County PUD Board has postponed a planned rate increase until May 2021. The board had approved the rate increase in February to become effective with bills in May of this year. But board members met Wednesday to revisit that decision, and unanimously approved a resolution to postpone the increase for 12 months. PUD General Manager Roger Kline says they have an appropriate level of financial reserves to support the delay. The original communication letter regarding the rate increase had already been sent to the PUD’s vendor for distribution, so customers should disregard it if you happen to receive it. Northern Wasco PUD has suspended service disconnects for non-payment as well as the issuance of late payment fees for the duration of the COVID-19 crisis.
As schools in Oregon work to have distance learning for students in place by April 13, North Wasco County School District 21 has begun to outline what that will look like for its students. Superintendent Candy Armstrong said in a statement Wednesday afternoon that starting with The Dalles High School, each school is sending out an update to students and parents. At the high school level all courses will be delivered via Google Classroom. Classwork will be graded for credit as it would in a traditional classroom setting. Armstrong indicated teachers are reaching out to students and will be working with them to eliminate any barriers students may have in accessing and participating in the courses.
The Hood River County School District has begun to get its teachers ready for distance learning. Superintendent Sara Hahn-Huston said in a statement on the district’s website that the district’s technology department began distributing devices to secondary students Wednesday and is reaching out to families who may have barriers to Internet access. District staff will be connecting with families and students this week. Hahn-Huston indicated the district will provide more information on their distance learning plans next week.
Wasco County Commissioners discussed concerns with acquiring Personal Protective Equipment for first responders at their Wednesday meeting. Commissioners specifically discussed some questions about whether eastern Oregon counties were receiving distribution on an equal footing with larger counties to the west. Commissioner Scott Hege says they considered sending a letter to Governor Kate Brown but decided to wait. Hege noted they have conference calls with the state to get updates on the PPE situation.
Wasco County Commissioners have approved an agreement on a long-discussed split of about $3.9 million in building code reserve funds left from the now-defunct Mid-Columbia Council of Governments. Under the agreement, Wasco County will receive 80 percent of the funds, and Sherman and Gilliam counties will receive 10 percent each. By state law the funds must be used for building codes purposes, and Commissioner Scott Hege says they will act as a reserve fund for the County’s program established as MCCOG dissolved. Wheeler County will not receive any of the funds because it has elected to have the state administer its building codes program. Wasco County Commissioners approved the agreement during its second online meeting on Wednesday. Hege says it went well, including two presentations and a public hearing on fees.