UPDATE (5:32 p.m. PT) — The Oregon Health Authority Tuesday reported an outbreak of coronavirus at Bob’s Red Mill in Clackamas County. The outbreak investigation began on May 27, OHA said.
In a statement from Bob’s Red Mill CEO Dennis Vaughn, the company said there were 14 employees at its Milwaukie production facility that tested positive for COVID-19.
“All are home to rest and quarantine with full pay. We are hopeful for mild cases and speedy recoveries,” Vaughn said in the statement. “Upon positive testing, we immediately implemented contact tracing. Out of an abundance of caution, additional employees who may have been in contact despite social distancing are also at home to quarantine.”
OHA said the risk to the public from the outbreak is low, and it will release additional information in its weekly report Wednesday.
New number for unemployment help
Oregonians who have filed for unemployment benefits through the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program now have a number to call with questions: 503-370-5400.
Until now, there has been no phone support for the new program, which extends unemployment benefits to independent contractors, gig workers and the self-employed for the first time.
That means tens of thousands of people who’ve applied to the program have had nowhere to turn for help. Until recently, they weren’t even getting confirmation their applications had been successfully received.
Tina Siegl, a nail technician and esthetician in Ashland, got through Monday, as the new phone number started circulating informally in a Facebook group of PUA applicants.
“That’s the first live person I’ve talked to this whole entire time,” she said.
Siegl initially filed for unemployment March 31, then refiled under PUA in early May.
She said the employment staffer who took her call this week spotted a problem on her application within minutes: a mistyped date.
“If she’s right and she can fix it that quickly, somebody should have spotted it weeks ago and been able to fix my problem,” she said.
The employment department said it was working on a toll free number as well.
Tacoma immigration jail to test all detainees for COVID-19
Federal officials said Monday that they will test all people detained at the Northwest detention center in Tacoma, according to the Associated Press.
The Immigration and Customs Enforcement facility can house about 1,500 detainees.
The action comes after immigration advocates sued in attempts to free medically vulnerable detainees amid the coronavirus outbreak.
Oregon death toll slowly rising
Oregon’s death toll from COVID-19 rose to 157 Tuesday, according to the Oregon Health Authority.
OHA reported three new coronavirus-related deaths:
A 36-year-old woman in Multnomah County who tested positive on May 31 and died the same day at Adventist Hospital. She had underlying medical conditions.
A 66-year-old woman in Multnomah County who tested positive on April 1 and died on May 22 at her residence. She had underlying medical conditions.
A 81-year-old woman in Washington County who tested positive on April 6 and died May 26 at her residence. She had underlying medical conditions.
The health agency reported 33 new confirmed and presumptive cases of COVID-19, putting the state’s running total of current cases at 4,335.
The highest number of new cases is in Multnomah County, where OHA identified 10. Presumptive cases are people who have not tested positive for the virus but have symptoms and have had close contact with a confirmed case.
Washington directs Clark County to submit a new application for Phase 2 reopening
The Washington Secretary of Health is directing Clark County to submit a new application for Phase 2 reopening.
Clark County Public Health had submitted a Phase 2 application last month, but Secretary John Wiesman placed the county’s request on hold due to a coronavirus outbreak at Firestone Pacific Foods in Vancouver.
The new application uses new metrics to measure county readiness for Phase 2, the county said in a news release Tuesday.
“Based on the level of COVID-19 activity in the community and our ability to respond quickly, effectively and appropriately, we’re optimistic we’ll receive a favorable review and approval to move to Phase 2,” Clark County Public Health director Alan Melnick said in a statement.
The county does not have a timeline for when it may be approved to move to Phase 2.
Clark County Tuesday reported two new coronavirus cases, bringing the county’s total cases to 560. To date, 25 people have died from COVID-19 in Clark County.
According to most recently available data, Washington state has 21,977 confirmed coronavirus cases. The state has seen 1,124 coronavirus-related deaths.
Elected officials fear protests could spread coronavirus
Thousands of demonstrators have taken part in multi-day protests in Portland and other parts of Oregon, causing some local and state leaders to speak out about potential coronavirus spread.
Since last week, tens of thousands of people nationally have gathered to express outrage and demand justice following the killing of George Floyd. Floyd, a black man, died May 25 after a white Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck, pinning him down for nearly nine minutes.
Now, public officials are concerned about large gatherings taking place amid the coronavirus pandemic. Portland City Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty said Monday during a press conference: “I am very concerned that COVID-19 will be exacerbated in Multnomah County and it will be exacerbated because we know that black and brown people suffer three times harsher outcomes with COVID-10 than the white population.”
Oregon Gov. Kate Brown echoed that sentiment, encouraging people to maintain social distancing while outside.
Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury said the county still plans on submitting a Phase 1 reopening application to the state Friday, with June 12 the target for reopening. Multnomah County is the only county in Oregon that has not entered Phase 1 of the governor’s reopening plan.
New Oregon employment director takes office to tackle COVID-related jobless claims
The Oregon Employment Department's new leader faced state lawmakers Monday, just hours into his new job.
David Gerstenfeld took the helm of the beleaguered department over the weekend, after Gov. Kate Brown asked former director Kay Erickson to resign.
Oregon’s unemployment benefits crisis reached a boiling point last week when the department revealed that only about half of the 445,000 people who’ve applied for traditional benefits since mid-March have received them.
Gerstenfeld has led two divisions in the department, including the Unemployment Insurance Division. He projected deep knowledge of the unemployment system but did not propose a radical change.
He told lawmakers the department is getting close to picking a vendor to do the multi-year modernization of the agency's archaic computer system. It will come too late to help those whose jobs have been ravaged by the coronavirus pandemic.