COVID-19 Update: Reopening Strategy, Wildfire Preparedness & More Resources

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Rep. Pam Marsh

May 1, 2020

Dear Friends and Neighbors,

Our Stay Home, Save Lives efforts have served to flatten the curve. With great sacrifice, together we have prevented an estimated 70,000 cases and 1,500 hospitalizations. Now it’s time to chart a course forward. As complicated and disorienting as it was to gear up for this pandemic, moving to some kind of normalized life may prove to be even more challenging. 

Today Governor Kate Brown announced details of the state’s reopening strategy, which will employ a testing and tracing approach that enables us to understand the prevalence of the virus and to identify where it may be hiding. 

Reopening will require that testing is available for anyone showing symptoms and for residents in high-risk settings, including residential care, prisons, and shelters, and for essential workers. In addition, beginning May 11, Oregon Health & Science University will initiate Be the Key, a statewide testing of 100,000 volunteers. Participants will be randomly selected, and no one will be required to be tested. 

In addition to testing, the state plans to hire and deploy 600 workers to serve as contact tracers who identify and educate individuals with possible exposure to COVID-19. These outreach workers will be bilingual and bi-cultural, and will help individuals understand the risks of their exposure.

With testing and tracing in place, reopening may begin in some Oregon counties as soon as May 15.

To be clear, life in the first phases of reopening will still be different. Industry work groups are developing guidelines for specific sectors, including restaurants, retail, personal services and child care, that will outline operational adjustments, such as distancing requirements for employees and customers, appropriate signage, and cleaning and disinfection standards. Employees will be encouraged to continue working from home when possible, and gatherings will be limited to small groups.

Subsequent phases will allow gradually larger gatherings, increased capacity for restaurants, and reopening of facilities where personal contact is common, such as bars and gyms. Larger facilities, including theaters and sports arenas, will likely be among the last businesses to restart. 

Gradual reopening will be based on gating criteria (declining number of cases, hospital capacity, etc.) and preparedness (testing capacity, plans for tracing and isolating positive individuals, etc.) that measure our health care system's capacity to care for new and predicted COVID-19 patients. It will not signal that the virus has disappeared. Individuals with underlying health conditions or who are otherwise at risk should continue to minimize exposure to public places and gatherings.

One thing is for sure: none of us wants to repeat this stay at home experience. A path forward that is cautious, incremental, and data-driven will get us back to regular life with minimal detours or distractions along the way.

And, in the meantime, we need to prepare for fire season and maintain services that will see our community through this crisis. I share more about those topics below.


Representative Pam Marsh

State Representative
Oregon House District 5 - Southern Jackson County

In this Issue - Quick Links


Wildfire During COVID-19 - May 5 Webinar

The presence of extreme drought and projections for higher-than-normal temperatures and lower-than-normal precipitation prompted the Oregon Department of Forestry to declare today, May 1, as the beginning of fire season in Southern Oregon – the earliest declaration since 1964. Dangerous on-ground conditions are even more alarming given the complications that COVID-19 poses as we prepare for wildfire. 

On Tuesday, May 5, 7:00-8:00, I will be joining Dr. Christopher Dunn, Research Associate with the Oregon State University College of Forestry, and Chris Chambers, Ashland Fire and Rescue Forest Division Chief, to discuss policies and practices for building resilient forests and protecting communities from fire. We’ll also address the added challenges of planning for wildfire during a global pandemic.

These are unprecedented times. Please join us as we begin to understand what lies ahead.

FREE WEBINAR: Preparing for Wildfire During the COVID-19 Pandemic
Tuesday, May 5th, 2020, 7:00-8:00 pm (via Zoom webinar):

Hosted by KS Wild, this event kicks off the Fire & Climate Summit, taking place as a series of free weekly webinars in May. Experts in a variety of fields will share their perspectives about living in a fire adapted ecosystem that is changing with the climate.

Fire & Climate Summit

Oregon Legislature Passes Relief Package

On Thursday, April 23, the Oregon Emergency Board met online via video conference to allocate funds to support vulnerable Oregonians in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.The Emergency Board is a statutory legislative committee comprised of legislators from the Oregon House of Representatives and Senate. The E-board has broad powers to allocate general fund resources, lottery revenue, and other state funds for unanticipated government requirements when the state legislature is not in session. 

The E-board prioritized front-line workers, domestic abuse survivors, and small business owners. Here below is a summary of the allocations:

  • Safe Shelter and Rent Assistance - $12 million
    • $3.5 million for safe shelter/social distancing alternatives for vulnerable populations, such as individuals experiencing un-sheltered homelessness and farmworkers.
    • $8.5 million for rent assistance for individuals who have lost income due to the pandemic.
  • Small Business Assistance - $10 million*
    • Grants or loans through community lenders for small businesses with no more than 25 employees that are impacted by the pandemic restrictions and have not received support from the federal CARES Act. *The $10 million is made up of $5 million from the Emergency Fund matched with $5 million from existing funds in the Oregon Business Development Department.
  • Oregon Worker Relief Fund - $10 million
    • Community-based wage assistance program for laid off workers who do not qualify for unemployment benefits due to immigration status or other factors.
  • Domestic Violence Housing Support - $2 million
    • Emergency housing for victims of domestic and sexual violence.
  • Long-Term Care Worker Training and Testing - $3.35 million
    • Coronavirus training and testing resources for workers serving very vulnerable Oregonians. This allocation may be replaced by federal response dollars.

With many Oregonians experiencing hardships due to COVID-19, these dollars will work in tandem with the federal CARES package to provide relief.

Tenant Protections video link - click here

Housing Protection for Tenants

It's May 1, and many Oregonians are trying to figure out how to pay rent due for the month to come. This video produced by the Oregon Law Center explains what tenants need to know about the state's COVID-19 ban on evictions. In short, it's illegal for a landlord to issue a termination for lack of payment or without cause until June 30.

However, your rent has not been forgiven. Tenants who can make a partial payment should do so. Let your landlord know what you can or cannot afford to pay. Payments that are not made now will need to be paid later.

The law is clear: no Oregonian should lose their home during the COVID-19 crisis. These additional resources will be helpful to anyone who is struggling to understand their protections:

Update on Unemployment Benefits

This has been a difficult time for Oregonians, both employers and employees. Employers are trying to navigate and plan how to reopen. For many employees, the process to submit claims for unemployment benefits has been extremely frustrating and confusing. The tsunami of applications for benefits remains a challenge for the Oregon Employment Department (OED). Fortunately, the department has expanded in recent days to 520 employees, and is working towards hiring 800 total employees to do this work.

For up-to-date data and announcements, use OED's COVID-19 webpage.

These FAQs address the most common concerns:


Why is it taking so long to get my claim processed?

There is a long queue of initial claims to process, verify, and insure correct benefits. Some claims may be waiting for one of the new federal programs, some need additional attention because the claimant’s history with unemployment benefits, and some need to take extra steps to verify claimant identity. Note that approved claims will be backdated when appropriate; claimants will not lose out on past benefits. Claims through OED and the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation will catch up.

I received a message that no valid claim was received, even though I applied. What should I do?

If you recently filed a new claim for benefits, please allow time for OED to process it. If you received a confirmation number at the end of the claim application, then you have filed a claim. Once OED processes the claim, you can view the status online. In the meantime, make weekly claim reports. If there are any issues, OED will contact you.

I got a letter saying my claim was denied. What happened? What do I do now?

  • Some claims were denied because employees indicated they were not looking for work with other employers; the system has been updated to auto-correct this. Those claims will be processed. Continue filing weekly claims.
  • If you were denied because you are self-employed, OED is working to incorporate newly received guidance from the U.S. Department of Labor into its claims system to bring self-employed and 1099 contract workers into the benefits system.
  • If there is another reason for the denial, you can appeal the decision by following the instructions in the letter. You can also reach out to my office and we’ll be happy to help.

What about benefits for self-employed, contract, and gig workers?

Good news! The Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program is open and accepting applications from self-employed, contract, and gig workers who are not eligible for regular unemployment benefits. Use the instructions and initial application form on the top of the CARES Act Page.

Note: if you already applied using the online claims system, filed initial and weekly claims, and have an established PIN, you should still complete the PUA application process here in English  or in Spanish.

I entered a return to work date, but we will still be under Stay Home, Save Lives orders. How can I fix it?

OED is clearing out the return to work dates on claims as they process them. Remember to keep claiming benefits each week.

What is the best way to contact OED?

  • Email:
  • Claimants have been encouraged to email OED rather than calling. This is still the correct approach, but the response time has been slower than the original expected time frame of less than a week. Expect a response within 10-12 days.
  • When contacting OED, include your name, claim number if you have one, and a contact number. This will help to resolve your issue more quickly.

As the state plans to reopen, many employers are worried that employees may refuse to return to work because their benefits are too rewarding. This document, Employment Department Temporary Rules for Unemployment Insurance Benefits Flexibility, provides more information.

An employee may remain eligible for unemployment benefits if they have a COVID-19 related reason such as:

  • Currently ill with COVID-19
  • Potentially exposed to COVID-19 and subjected to a mandatory quarantine period
  • Staying home to care for a family member, or other person they live with or who they provide care for, who is suffering from COVID-19 or subject to mandatory quarantine
  • Caring for a child due to the closure of schools, child care providers, or similar facilities due to COVID-19
  • A return to work would require them to act in violation of a mandatory quarantine or government directive
  • Advised by their health care provider or public health officials to self-quarantine due to possible risk of exposure or risk of spreading COVID-19

What if my employees choose not to return to work because they are scared?

Close proximity to the public is not a COVID-19 related reason. As long as your workplace can follow social distancing guidelines issued by government or public health officials, and the person does not have a COVID-19 related reason for not returning to work, they are considered able to work. Choosing not to return to work would affect their unemployment benefit eligibility.

If an employee is concerned about whether or not they can return to work, they should reach out to the Oregon Employment Department or my office.

Safe + Strong

Safe + Strong - Resources in 12 Languages

Governor Kate Brown and the Oregon Health Authority recently launched the Safe + Strong campaign, a new phase of COVID-19 outreach and education with health information and resources in 12 languages: Spanish, Vietnamese, Russian, Traditional Chinese, Simplified Chinese, Arabic, Korean, Hmong, Somali, Chuukese, Marshallese and English.

Safe + Strong connects Oregonians who are most at-risk of experiencing health disparities and systemic barriers with resources to keep their families safe and healthy, including resources for food and rental assistance, unemployment benefits and the Oregon Health Plan. It focuses on culturally relevant tools and information for immigrants and refugees, Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) communities, Oregonians whose preferred language is not English, Oregonians with chronic health conditions, older Oregonians, migrant and seasonal farmworkers and hourly wage essential workers.

The campaign also includes a strategically targeted digital, radio, and print campaign to direct people to the website; and a technical assistance effort to support community organizations in reaching and assisting Oregonians across the state.

COVID-19 Local Resources Online

A comprehensive list of links to resources for food, mental health, health insurance, unemployment, small business support, housing, childcare and more is provided online at my website:

COVID-19 Community Resources & Assistance

Here you can also find a list of ways to support our community during this crisis:

COVID-19 Ways to Help, Give & Volunteer

Please contact me to share additional resources and services. My staff will continue to update these lists. 

Contact Rep Marsh

Capitol Phone: 503-986-1405
District Phone: 541-282-4516
Capitol Address: 900 Court St. NE, H-375, Salem, Oregon 97301
Website and e-Subscribe: