Wildfire and coronavirus update

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Rep. Nathanson

September 17, 2020

Dear friends,

This issue of enews will include short updates about the catastrophic wildfires and hazardous air, as well as the COVID-19 pandemic response. I know some of you will want to start airing out your home and cleaning up as soon as possible. College students will be arriving to start the school year. Lane Transit District will be helping move fire evacuees from hotels to a temporary shelter at Churchill High School on Friday, Sept. 18. So much is on our minds – concern for our family, friends, and others in our region. Please reach out if you need help, or need to talk; I’m including some recommendations about that as well (see "Coping with stress" below).


Cleaning up ash? Caution!

air qual

Once the smoke clears and the air quality improves, ash left behind by fires remains a health risk if not cleaned up safely.

Health, environmental, and workplace safety experts from Oregon Health Authority (OHA), Occupational Safety and Health Division (OSHA), and Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) hosted an info session yesterday to discuss wildfire smoke and air quality (here). The DEQ Air Quality Manager warned that the presence of heavy smoke and unhealthy air quality from wildfires has been increasing over the last 5 years, and in areas around the state rarely affected by smoke. Measures that are being used during this wildfire season to keep smoke out of the home like sealing windows and doors, buying air filters and portable filtering devices, should be taken into consideration as regular preparation for next year’s wildfires.

Check air quality on the Lane Regional Air Protection Agency site or in the weather app on your phone, by scrolling to the bottom.

How do smoke and ash cause health problems?

Smoke and ash are health concerns because very small particles (particulate matter, PM as you might see in an air quality index) gets into the lungs and airways. Hospitals have seen an increase in ER visits from asthma-like symptoms. If ash is kicked up into the air during cleaning, the fine particles can irritate the eyes, throat and nose, and the respiratory system.

When to start airing out your house and cleaning ash?

When the air quality index is in the green or yellow zones: good and moderate, or 0-100 on the Air Quality Index (AQI), it’s safe to open windows and begin cleaning up ash outside the home. Although it's safe to be outside in the yellow zone, it's best to wait till we're in the green to open windows, especially if you have good filtration in your home. 

How to clean up safely?

The key to cleaning up ash safely is to avoid blowing or kicking it into the air, so you don’t breathe in the fine particles. Here are some pieces of advice gleaned from websites and state briefings:

  • Moisten the ash first.
  • Sweeping: sweep gently to stir up as few of the particles as possible (some of it is not even visible), then use a wet mop. Push broom is preferred.
  • Vacuuming: you can use a HEPA (High Efficiency Particulate Air) filter equipped vacuum, but you should still wet the ash first.
  • Not advised for inside: Household vacuum cleaners, shop vacuums, and other non-HEPA filter vacuums that will blow fine dust particles into the air.
  • On cars, driveways and pathways, it’s fine to use a garden hose to dampen the ash. Avoid using leaf blowers and power washers.
  • Wash or gently push ash into lawns, flower beds or other landscaped areas, which act as natural filters, instead of down the storm drain.
  • “Suit up.” Wear a filtration mask, gloves, and other protective clothing. (I’ll be wearing an “overshirt” that I use for painting and a cotton bandana to cover my hair, and put  both into the washer). N95 masks protect the best against fine particles, but are being prioritized for frontline health care workers, agriculture and farmworkers, and others who work outside. KN95 masks are a good available substitute.

Helping Oregonians recover from wildfires

Federal disaster declaration

Federal emergency aid has been made available to supplement state, tribal and local recovery efforts in the areas affected by wildfires and straight-line winds beginning on Sept. 7, 2020 and continuing. 

The declaration makes federal funding available to affected individuals in Clackamas, Douglas, Jackson, Klamath, Lane, Lincoln, Linn, and Marion counties. Assistance can include grants for temporary housing and home repairs, low-cost loans to cover uninsured property losses, and other programs to help individuals and business owners recover from the effects of the disaster. Individuals and business owners who sustained losses in the designated area can begin applying for assistance by registering online at www.DisasterAssistance.gov or by calling 1-800-621-3362 or 1-800-462-7585 TTY. Affected Oregonians are encouraged to apply as soon as possible.

Insurance Help

The Department of Consumer and Business Services is sharing resources and available to answer questions about insurance coverage. Their wildfire page has tips and resources to help with filing and settling insurance claims. You can also reach their consumer advocates for free advice by calling 888-877-4894 or emailing dfr.insurancehelp@oregon.gov.

Helping displaced Oregonians

Home Share Oregon, a program from the nonprofit organization Oregon Harbor of Hope, is helping match homeowners who have space to share with renters who need an affordable place to live—and offering the service for free to those displaced by the fires. They use an online platform to match homeowners and renters and protect the relationship with a lease, insurance and more. Visit https://www.homeshareoregon.org to learn more.

COVID-19 updates

Mortgage relief program re-opened

The Homeowner Stabilization Initiative (OHSI) has been re-opened to help homeowners get caught up on their mortgage through the COVID-19 Mortgage Relief Program. With about $20 million in funding remaining, it’s anticipated the funds will go quickly. See eligibility requirements here. If you have questions, email homeowner.help@oregon.gov or call OHSI at (503) 986-2025.

Temporary paid leave

The COVID-19 Temporary Paid Leave Program is now live and accepting applications. This program was recently funded by the legislature’s Emergency Board and with $30 million in federal dollars to help employees who need to quarantine or isolate due to COVID-19 exposure, but do not have access to COVID-19-related paid sick leave. People who qualify will receive a $120 per-day payment for up to 10 working days ($1,200 total) for the time they are required to quarantine. Due to limited funds, the program is available for those directed to be in quarantine on or after September 16 and is not retroactive. 

You can apply online now at www.oregon.gov/covidpaidleave. If you don’t have access to the application online or need help applying, Call 833-685-0850 or 503-947-0130. The call center is open Monday-Friday, 7:30 a.m. -5 p.m. The program website also has FAQs and an eligibility quiz where workers can check the requirements before applying.


More than 4,000 UO students are returning to Eugene-Springfield in preparation for fall classes. Groups of up to 450 students begin arriving this week and COVID-19 testing will occur as soon as they arrive. When students receive verification of a negative test result they will move into residence halls. This process will continue through September 28 and classes start September 29.  UO has published a detailed plan to reduce spread on campus, including managing classes and student activities.

Coping with stress

  • The Oregon Behavioral Health Support Line is a free and confidential resource for anyone looking for emotional support. Call 1-800-923-HELP (4357). You do not need to be in mental health crisis to call this line. If you need or want help beyond what the line can provide, you will be connected to those services. Through this number, you can also connect with Lines for Life (linesforlife.org), a suicide prevention organization with specific resources for youth, military personnel and their families, and those affected by substance abuse problems.
  • SAMHSA’s Disaster Distress Helpline provides 24/7, 365-day-a-year crisis counseling and support to people experiencing emotional distress related to natural or human-caused disasters. Call SAMHSA’s Disaster Distress Helpline at 1-800-985-5990 or text TalkWithUs to 66746 to speak to a trained crisis counselor.
  • Call 211 or visit 211info.org to connect with health and social service organizations. These include child care resources, utility assistance, food resources, housing and shelter information and more.
  • The Center for Community Counseling is open providing mental health counseling for low-income people in Lane County and short term counseling for the general community. These services are provided by phone or videoconferencing. Please call 541-344-0620 for information.
  • OHP/Insurance Sign Up: White Bird is assisting with Oregon Health Plan applications via phone Mon – Fri 9 am to 5 pm. Contact the department directly at 541-816-2793.
  • To stay informed about wildfires and learn about resources across the state, go to wildfire.oregon.gov

COVID-19 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
Oregon Law Center: Information on housing & employment protections, domestic violence aid, emergency public assistance and more.