Coronavirus update 12: Economic forecast, Rental assistance, More statewide guidelines, Health data update and more

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Rep. Nathanson

Coronavirus update 12: May 22, 2020

Dear friends,

It's been 10 weeks since the first Executive Orders directing statewide response to the pandemic. It feels like we’re no longer in panic mode, and are now in coping mode.

The House District that I represent (District 13) is an urban legislative district. But I know many of you think about how the pandemic affects other parts of the state, and activities not necessarily in your own daily experience. I'm including one of those examples in this newsletter and will include others in the future. For this week I chose how the rules affect farmers and farmworkers.

You’ll be receiving another regular enews from me very soon, to cover non-pandemic legislative updates for April-May. It will include a more in depth look at the recent Economic and Revenue Forecast, described briefly below.

Wash your hands!



And Team Nathanson: James and Lindsay

Economic and revenue forecast

The big news in Salem and across the state this week, as usual, centers on the effects of COVID-19 on our physical and economic health. The good news is that Lane County was approved for a modest “reopening” by Oregon Health Authority. Except for hot spots around the Portland metro area, most other counties are entering “Phase I” and will begin allowing limited use of restaurants, fitness, religious, and other facilities, so long as we continue being safe. If the COVID cases start to spike again, both the health and economic recovery will be delayed.


The state’s top economists explained this week how the sharp economic downturn will have some lasting effects in Lane County and across the state. You can see me with several colleagues in this photo, on Microsoft Teams, hearing from them. They projected that the state’s various revenue sources will be down for at least five years. For the current 2019-21 biennium ending in June 2021, the shortfall is projected at $2.7 billion –in the 22 percent range - for the coming fiscal year. The Legislature will have a tough, but necessary, job to do in finding a way to balance revenues and spending in the coming year. We’re not allowed to run a deficit the way the Federal government can, but the Legislature had the foresight to create reserve funds several years ago, now totaling about $1.6 billion, which will cushion the blow. And the economic “bounce back” has already begun: for example, the economist pointed out that people have already started playing games again on the state’s lottery machines that were turned on last weekend.

I’ll write more about the Economic and Revenue Forecast in my next enews.

New relief available and updates

Rental assistance

Lane County received $930,000 from $8.5 M allocated for rental assistance by the Oregon Legislature Emergency Board. The County Human Services Division is currently working out how the funds will be distributed into the community in a simple and efficient way. Rent assistance will be available for households that have had a loss of income due to COVID-19 and are making less than 50 percent of the median income, which is $32,500 or less for a family of four. Assistance will be paid directly to landlords.

The application process will be posted on the Rental Assistance page. Although it’s not available yet, I want to give you this link to check in case it's available before I send out my next newsletter. Questions about the rent assistance program can be directed to

This funding will not meet the full need in Lane County. More funding for rental assistance is expected to come through the federal CARES Act.

Food benefits for families

The families of more than 350,000 Oregon school children who receive free meals at school will get additional help in June: $5.70 per school day in food benefits, the equivalent of one school breakfast and lunch. The food benefits will be retroactive to March 16. That works out to $384 per child: $69 for March, $126 for April, $120 for May, and $69 for June.

The benefits will be automatically deposited for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) households to their Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) accounts on their regular issuance date.

Students who get free school meals but do not receive SNAP benefits will automatically receive an Oregon Trail Card in the mail in June and July. Parents do not need to apply if their children are part of a school where all students receive free meals.

Families whose children attend participating schools and have experienced significant income loss may have become eligible for free school meals, and there is still time to apply. See more in the DHS press release. Apply online here or contact your local school. Find out if your school participates in this program here.

Unemployment insurance update


In yesterday's daily briefing, we heard about the status of processing Unemployment Insurance (UI) claims. The Employment Department (OED) is still working on some of the regular claims that were filed in March. Some of these require more manual labor to process, mailed in paper applications or more complicated cases.

I’ve heard this week from constituents who have waited on the phone much longer than the estimate of 2-3 hours to speak with a real person. OED is expected to add more people to the call lines next week to bring down the wait time. If you’re seeking a status update on your claim, you might be able to get an answer faster by calling the local WorkSource center at (541) 686-7601. If you filed in March and haven’t heard anything about the status of your claim, let my office know, and we can try to help connect you to someone at OED.

All those places touched by new rules

Protecting farmworkers

Farmers are racing to buy and install equipment and supplies to comply with new rules that affect farm workers. Oregon OSHA, the state’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration, issued a temporary rule covering field sanitation, labor housing, and transportation. For example, farms will be required to provide more portable toilets and handwashing stations in fields and orchards; beds in labor camps must be spaced 6 feet apart or separated by an impermeable barrier, such as Plexiglass or heavy plastic sheets. New rules take effect June 1, and by then farmers in the Columbia Gorge – Oregon’s largest tree fruit growing region – will likely be harvesting cherries. One news story described the typical cherry grower in The Dalles, bringing in about 100 seasonal pickers who would be housed two to four to a cabin.

Summer school and summer camp

In an effort to bring students back to classrooms safely, the Department of Education has issued new statewide guidance for in-person instruction for summer school and other summer programs. The guidance ensures that all in-person instruction minimizes health and safety risks while improving student connections and learning. The guidance requires all summer educational settings to develop communicable disease management plans, with measures for infection control, physical distancing, screening for COVID-19 symptoms, and contact tracing. OHA has also issued new statewide guidance for the safe operation of summer camps. All camps must have a communicable disease management plan in place for staff and for youth.

Restaurants and bars expanding outside

The Oregon Liquor Control Commission (OLCC) has started fast-tracking applications to expand the sale of alcohol to sidewalks, streets and nearby parking lots. This could enable some restaurants and bars to add or move tables and chairs to comply with new physical distancing requirements, and all OLCC regulations continue to apply in the new area.

The ordinary process for restaurants and bars to expand the service area is to communicate with and provide documentation to OLCC. For a current license holder, OLCC has a streamlined application on their website, including a description of the area the current license holder is requesting to add and signing a “affirm and attest” that they have permission from the land owner if on private property or the local government that has jurisdiction if on public property (e.g. sidewalk, public street, or public park).   

All retail stores: a conditional green light to reopen

The Oregon Health Authority announced last week that all retail stores in all Oregon counties can reopen, following specific guidelines. Stores are required to limit the number of customers to allow them to maintain 6 feet between customers and provide and require all employees to wear face coverings as well as follow other rules.  


In the OHA weekly report published May 19:

"Reassuringly, as Oregon begins reopening businesses and relaxing more restrictions on daily activity, fewer COVID-19 cases and deaths were reported during the week of May 11 through May 17 than during the preceding week. Also reassuring is the decline in newly reported cases occurred despite two concurrent trends that increased detection of new cases: increasing testing and increasing inclusion of presumptive cases identified as a result of contact tracing. The number of COVID-19 tests reported in Oregon rose from 14,481 in the week ending May 8 to 16,787 in the week ending May 15, a 16% increase, while the proportion of tests that were positive fell again to 2.6%, its lowest level since OHA began tracking COVID-19 testing."

See more in the Weekly Testing Summary, also found on the OHA COVID-19 page

Here’s a snapshot of COVID-19 cases by zip code, showing number of cases and the rate per 10,000 population. The full table is available here. I selected this section of the table to include zip codes in Eugene, 9740x. Zip codes 97381-97383-97385 are Silverton, Stayton, and Sublimity in Marion County, east of Salem.


How is the disease spread and how do masks protect us?

I recently read a post, found here, that explains the risk of infection and getting sick with COVID-19 from exposure to virus in the air or on surfaces.  The author is a Comparative Immunologist and Professor of Biology (specializing in Immunology) at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth who says, "I balance Teaching, Research and Public Service (that is, when we are allowed in our labs)." There's a lot of science in the article about virus droplets and velocity, viral load, indoor spaces and airflow, and exposure time, yet I found it very readable. It also explains why working in a building for several hours with lots of people in a closed area with poor ventilation is a much higher risk than simply passing someone for a second or two on a sidewalk in the open air.

The bottom line is "dose and time needed for infection."  The author says, "Basically, as the work closures are loosened, and we start to venture out more, possibly even resuming in-office activities, you need to look at your environment and make judgments. How many people are here, how much airflow is there around me, and how long will I be in this environment.  ...  While I have focused on respiratory exposure here, please don't forget surfaces. Those infected respiratory droplets land somewhere. Wash your hands often and stop touching your face!   As we are allowed to move around our communities more freely and be in contact with more people in more places more regularly, the risks to ourselves and our family are significant. Even if you are gung-ho for reopening and resuming business as usual, do your part and wear a mask to reduce what you release into the environment. It will help everyone, including your own business."


I checked in with a local doctor working in public health to get another perspective on this issue. I asked him, for example, do we need to wear masks when going for a walk outside or a jog in the neighborhood?

He confirmed the use of masks is to minimize viral transmission with prolonged exposure within 6 feet and the use is to prevent others from being exposed to your viral illness, should you be infected. He also said there is really no risk from a jogger running by and breathing hard, unless they had stopped to talk, cough or sneeze on you standing less than 6 feet away were one of the very few people who have been infected in our community (0.017% of our community have tested positive for the virus). 

He closed with “Our call is to be thoughtful, respectful, aware of the concerns and fears of others. Wearing a mask, when appropriate, can be a sign of respect and a collective commitment to each other.  On the flip side, wearing a mask can make people think social distancing is less important.”

Information resources

Building a Safe and Strong Oregon: reopening plan, County status and Statewide guidance
Lane County Public Health: Local data, Blueprint for reopening and Community resources
Oregon Health Authority (with a link to subscribe to their news service)
Oregon Health Plan (open enrollment)
University of Oregon webpage on UO's COVID-19 response
Oregon Office of Emergency Management OEM COVID-19 response
Employment Department: for business: Work Share
Unemployment Insurance Online Claims and new Pandemic Unemployment Assistance
Bureau of Labor and Industries Coronavirus and Workplace Laws
Department of Human Services.
Department of Education
Oregon Food Bank's Food Finder