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Oregon Unemployment Claims Continue To Soar

<p>There is currently no vaccine to prevent contracting COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus.</p>

There is currently no vaccine to prevent contracting COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus.

UPDATE (7:38 p.m. PT) — Oregon state and local health officials reported 1,321 known coronavirus cases as of Thursday afternoon.

Health officials reported Thursday that there have been 44 known coronavirus-related deaths in the state.

Washington surpasses 9,000 cases

Clark County Public Health said Thursday that there are 206 known cases of the virus there. To date, 14 people in Clark County have died.

The latest available data from the Washington Department of Health indicated the state had reported 9,608 diagnosed cases of the coronavirus and 446 related deaths.

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown extends school closures

Oregon public schools will remain closed for the remainder of the school year, Brown announced Wednesday

Brown also announced new Oregon Department of Education guidelines for graduating seniors, ensuring that the students will graduate on time if they were expected to pass their courses. 

The guidance also asks teachers to work with students who were struggling prior to school closures, so they can also receive their diplomas.

The Oregon Employment Department said Thursday that it has received 269,900 initial unemployment claims in three weeks.

In comparison, there were 147,800 net job losses in Oregon during the Great Recession, the department said. 

During the week of March 29 alone, the most recent week of available data, the department received 100,700 initial claims — up from the nearly 93,000 it had received the week before.

The federal CARES Act payments of $600 per week will begin processing through Oregon’s unemployment system this week, the department said.

The Oregon Clinic furloughs 

One of the largest independent health care providers in the Portland metro area has reduced the hours of or temporarily furloughed about 820 employees.

In a letter to the state’s dislocated worker unit Wednesday, The Oregon Clinic listed nurses, nurse practitioners and physician’s assistants as among the staff affected.

The 26-year-old, physician-owned practice has suffered a “dramatic loss of business” as a result of the coronavirus pandemic and the cancellation of non-emergency surgeries and procedures, according to its state filing.

Those surgeries are a primary source of income for many medical practices and hospitals. The Oregon Clinic is hardly alone among medical groups facing serious financial strain in the midst of the pandemic.

“Beginning in mid-March, about 80% (820) of our employees have been impacted by COVID-19 in the form of furloughs, hours reductions, or temporary pay cuts. These are not layoffs,” the practice said in a statement Thursday. “All furloughed employees are still employed by The Oregon Clinic and are still receiving benefits.”

The clinic said it expected furloughed employees to return to work by mid-June, though it couldn’t set an exact date.

It also did not say how many of the 820 affected workers were fully out of work.

Large prison disturbance reveals inmate tensions

A large disturbance in the minimum security unit of the Monroe Correctional Complex erupted Wednesday after inmates said their concerns over COVID-19 weren't being addressed.

The Northwest News Network reports a group of about 50 inmates refused to return to their cells and started setting off fire extinguishers around 6 p.m.

By 10 p.m., officials with the Washington Department of Corrections said guards had quelled the uprising using pepper spray, rubber bullets and other less lethal measures.

“It is believed at this time that the incident was caused by recent positive test results of COVID-19,” DOC said in a statement.

Tension had been rising at the jail for days, as inmates worried they could not avoid infection from the virus. Social distancing can be nearly impossible in jails and prisons due to crowded populations and limited space.

The New York Times reported this week that the Cook County Jail in Illinois may be the single largest point of infection in the country. Inmates and advocates in both Oregon and Washington have sought recently to get people released from jails if they are at particular risk of dying from COVID-19 and are nearing the end of their sentences.

Oregon State University postpones commencement ceremonies

OSU announced Thursday it is postponing commencement ceremonies in Corvallis and at its Cascades campus in Bend until a later date, possibly in the fall. 

“This was not an easy decision to make,” OSU President Ed Ray said in a statement. “... Yet, postponing commencement to a healthier time is the right choice and is strongly supported by our students.”

OSU has never canceled a commencement ceremony in its history, Ray said. 

Commencement was originally scheduled for June 13 and 14 in Corvallis and Bend.

Oregon DEQ offers online emission test

The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality Thursday said it is offering online emission test certifications starting this week. 

Vehicle owners in the Portland and Medford area have to do an in-person emissions test at a test site and receive an emissions certificate when renewing vehicle registration.

Now, online certification is available for vehicle owners who have registrations that expire this year between Feb. 15 and May 15, the department said. 

People who get the certificates online must still have their vehicles tested but will have until the end of the year to do so. 

“Offering vehicle certification online will make it easy for vehicle owners to stay current in their registration even while DEQ Vehicle Inspection Program testing stations are closed due to the COVID-19 outbreak,” the department said in a statement. 

DEQ closed Portland’s six testing stations and Medford’s one station on March 17 due to the coronavirus outbreak.

Copyright 2020 Oregon Public Broadcasting

Meerah Powell