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Health & Medicine

Oregon State Fair Canceled; Governor Faces Lawsuit Over COVID-19 Orders

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

UPDATE (7:46 p.m. PT) — Oregon Gov. Kate Brown is facing a lawsuit challenging three executive orders intended to protect residents from the coronavirus by restricting where people can go and how they interact.

Churches, including Elkhorn Baptist in Baker City, argue the orders are invalid on “constitutional procedural grounds,” according to a public statement on the suit from the nonprofit Common Sense for Oregon. 

The Pacific Justice Institute is arguing the case for the plaintiffs, and says it “seeks to invalidate” three orders, starting with Brown’s initial emergency declaration, signed on March 8.

The suit challenges “stay-at-home” mandate Brown signed on March 23rd which have effectively shut down significant economic and social activity throughout Oregon — a pattern playing out in numerous states. The suit also targets an extension of the emergency declaration issued on May 1.

The suit argues that emergency powers only last for 30 days and after that Brown would have needed legislative approval.

Brown's office didn't immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday evening.

Oregon State Fair canceled for 2020

The Oregon State Fair officially canceled its summer festivities following Gov. Kate Brown's announcement regarding large gatherings Thursday morning.

The governor, in laying out a plan for gradually reopening the state, canceled large gatherings — like the fair in Salem — through at least September. Allowing such gatherings is unlikely until a vaccine or other treatment becomes available, she said.

"The safety of our fairgoers, exhibitors, competitors, performers, sponsors, vendors, contractors, volunteers and staff has always been — and will always be our top priority,” said Mike Paluszak, director and CEO of the Oregon State Fair & Expo Center, in a statement. “We are saddened by the news, but support our state leaders in their efforts to keep all Oregonians safe in the wake of COVID-19.”

The fair was scheduled to begin Aug. 27.

Oregon approaches 3,000 cases

Oregon health officials Thursday reported 70 new confirmed coronavirus cases, bringing the state’s total to 2,957 known cases.

Health officials also reported three new presumptive cases. Presumptive cases are people who have not tested positive but have coronavirus symptoms and have had close contact with a confirmed case.

Officials also announced six new coronavirus-related deaths.

In Oregon, 121 people are now known to have died from COVID-19.

Clark County reports 3 new coronavirus cases

In Southwest Washington, Clark County Public Health Thursday reported three new confirmed cases of coronavirus, bringing the county’s total number of known cases to 375. 

No new deaths were reported Thursday. In total, 23 people are known to have died of COVID-19 in Clark County.

The latest available data from the Washington Department of Health show 16,231 diagnosed cases of the coronavirus and 891 related deaths.

Oregon Employment Department receives another nearly 20,000 initial unemployment claims

The Oregon Employment Department Thursday said it received 19,600 initial unemployment claims last week. The agency said it has received more than 381,800 claims since coronavirus business closures began in mid-March.

The largest initial claims continued to come from the accommodation and food services sector, the agency said. The department said 64,700 initial claims have been filed in that industry since March 15.

The Employment Department said four out of five claims for regular unemployment benefits that were received between March 15 and May 2 have been processed.

The agency said it has also processed more than 10,000 applications for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance benefits. That program addresses self-employed people, contract workers, gig workers and others who were not eligible for regular unemployment benefits.

Linn County Public Health working to reopen Albany food processing site

Linn County Public Health said Thursday it is working with National Frozen Foods Corporation to reopen an Albany food production facility Friday.

National Frozen Foods operates a vegetable processing plant at the Albany site, which employs more than 300 people. The site was voluntarily closed April 23 due to eight employees and two family members testing positive for coronavirus, according to a news release from Linn County Public Health.

The company said, in total, there were 34 positive tests related to the Albany facility including employees and their household members.

A roadmap to reopening

Under a plan unveiled by Gov. Kate Brown on Thursday, Oregon plans to automatically ease restrictions on child care facilities and some retail stores. Counties can apply to reopen bars, restaurants and salons beginning May 8.

Many of the eased restrictions will likely be most readily granted to Oregon counties where the virus has had the least impact and can meet a set of prerequisites issued by the governor. More populous counties where the disease is more firmly entrenched will take longer to reopen.

Once allowed, the renewed economic activity also must be done in relative safety, with the widespread use of face masks, strict distancing measures and some businesses required to ask patrons screening questions to determine their risk for carrying the novel coronavirus.

Highlights of Brown’s plan include easing restrictions on child care services and opening some personal services like barbershops, salons and gyms as early as May 15. Counties must apply to the state government for such easing plans to begin, however. The counties must show they have a decreasing number of COVID-19 cases, adequate testing supplies and staff to trace potential outbreaks of the disease.

Lawmakers push for open Wi-Fi for students without access

Oregon Democratic U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden and other federal lawmakers Thursday urged Comcast to open all of its public Wi-Fi networks to students who lack internet access at home.

In their letter to Comcast, Wyden and Sens. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., and Cory Booker, D-N.J., wrote about the burden students without internet access are facing amid the closure of schools during the coronavirus pandemic. 

“[T]his new burden is disproportionately borne by the 12 million students in rural and low-income areas of the United States who lack reliable internet access at home,” the lawmakers wrote. “Comcast has taken important steps to help Americans get connected during this global public health emergency. But it can — and should — do more to help children and teachers in Oregon and across the country.”

Comcast and hundreds of other internet and telecommunications providers joined in a Federal Communications pledge March 13 to “Keep Americans Connected,” the lawmakers said. That pledge included opening “Wi-Fi hotspots to any American who needs them.”

However, the lawmakers said, Comcast has only opened a small percentage of its Wi-Fi networks, specifically those in businesses and outdoor locations.

Portland begins modifying streets for social distancing

Portland’s transportation bureau officially kicked off its “Slow Streets Safe Streets” initiative Thursday. First announced by Commissioner Chloe Eudaly last week, the project will start by closing city streets to through-traffic, so Portlanders have room to social distance once the stay-at-home order ends. 

These efforts will be focused on neighborhood greenways, the city’s 100-mile network of residential streets. Starting Thursday, the city will place temporary barricades on the streets as well as signs to let drivers know that pedestrians and bicyclists have priority. 

You can see which streets have been picked for the treatment here

Copyright 2020 Oregon Public Broadcasting

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