May 13th Update from SD 23

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Michael Dembrow

May 13, 2022

Dear Neighbors and Friends,

I hope that you and your loved ones are doing well, staying healthy, and looking out for your neighbors and friends during this past week. 

I spent most of this week in Eastern Oregon (or getting to and from there) to meet with students and local communities as part of the Joint Task Force on Success for Underrepresented Students in Higher Education, which I discussed in last week’s newsletter. I can tell you that it was highly illuminating and we learned a lot.  I won’t be going into that in detail this week, but in the first item in this newsletter, you can read about an interesting and gratifying insight that I had on the drive . . .

You can also find information about the current wildfire prognosis for this year, as well as some of the actions that the State is taking to get out in front of this year’s risk.

On the COVID front, infection rates are continuing their projected increase, particularly in the Portland Metro area.  In response, Multnomah County is recommending (not requiring) that for now people wear masks in indoor public places, particularly if they are at risk of serious infection or are in close contact with those who are.  You can read about that in several of the links below.

In general, we remain pretty much on track with the recent forecasts from OHSU, predicting that the current increases in cases and positivity rates will peak in a month. Fortunately, the number of COVID deaths appear to remain relatively low.

You’ll find details on all of these developments in this newsletter, along with the links and graphs that will clarify the current status of the pandemic for you.

Until the next newsletter, please stay healthy and safe.  And let me know if you have any questions or thoughts about anything in tonight’s newsletter.


Look Twice for Motorcycles!

In last week’s newsletter I reported on the trips that the Joint Task Force on Student Success for Underrepresented Students in Higher Ed are taking around the state to meet with college/university students, staff, and community members.  This week we went to La Grande and Ontario for meetings at Eastern Oregon University and Treasure Valley Community College.  It was an extremely informative two days in Eastern Oregon.

But that’s not actually why I’m writing.  Believe it or not, one of the most exciting things I got to experience was the reader boards on I-84.  As you know, these reader boards are there to tell us to watch out dangerous road conditions, look out for missing vehicles, or let us know about closed roads.  This time sign after sign (and there are many, many signs between Portland and Ontario) asked us to watch out for motorcycles and make sure to keep them safe.

These signs were a reminder that our agencies are willing to listen and help solve problems.

The genesis of these messages was actually a lunch meeting that I attended with a local motorcycle advocacy group, called ABATE.  I was invited by Dave, my constituent, former student, and friend, who is an active member.  I was invited to talk to them about next steps for the Motorcycle Lane Filtering bill that the Legislature passed in 2021 but the Governor unfortunately (and mistakenly, I believe) vetoed.  I had been the lead sponsor of this bill and was proud to have assembled a broad, bipartisan group of chief sponsors and co-sponsors.  I promised them that I would bring it back next year.

They also had a couple of requests that I couldn’t agree to: lifting the helmet requirement and making sure that there would be no tolling of I-5 in connection with the Interstate Bridge Replacement project.  We agreed to disagree on those.

But there was one request that I could definitely agree to.  One of the members, Bud, went up to the microphone and spoke about the tragic death of his son in a motorcycle accident.  The son had been killed in a collision with a truck, with the outcome inevitable.  The driver confessed that he just never saw cyclist, never was aware of him in the next lane.  Bud asked me if the state could put up signs on the freeways reminding motorists and truckers to keep an eye out for motorcyclists so that those kinds of tragedies could be avoided.

I told him that I thought that was a great idea and that perhaps the existing reader boards could be programmed to deliver that message along with their other messages.  I told him I’d get in touch with ODOT and see what could be done.

I did, and as you can see, they listened and took prompt action.  Serendipitously, May is Motorcycle Safety Awareness Month, so ODOT took advantage of that to roll out the new readerboard program. You can read about it here.

Let’s all do our part to keep our neighbors and loved ones safe.


Legislators Hear First Wildfire Forecast

Earlier this week legislators heard the first report from the Department of Forestry and the State Fire Marshal about the prognosis for this year’s fire season.  It’s a mixed forecast, a mixture of hope for a better year and caution around ongoing difficult underlying conditions.

On the positive side, we are in good shape regarding spring rain and snowcap.  We were in trouble on these fronts going into the spring, but I don’t need to tell you that the recent rains (and snow at higher elevations) that we’ve experienced in recent weeks have allowed us to catch up in much of the state.  That will really help as we move into wildfire season.

However, this is really just a blip in the ongoing drought that much of the state continues to experience.  This is particularly the case in Southern and Eastern Oregon, where the rains and snowcap remain below normal and the drought has already been hitting those forests exceptionally hard and drying them out.   

The predictive services used by ODF and OFM show that by August we’ll be looking at a high level of dryness in the Northern Rockies, Northern California, and much of Oregon and Washington—setting us up for competition with other states in the quest for firefighting resources during the late summer.  (Interestingly, Oregon crews and trucks are already at work firefighting in Texas and New Mexico. We hope that TX and NM crews will be available to pay us back in the summer.

Here are the slides. from the presentation, which will give you lots more detail.

We saw 30% fewer lightning strikes last summer than we usually receive.  That helped make last summer better than it could have been—but the experts are concerned that things will balance out this year and we’ll see more.  Having said that, we were reminded that 80% of Oregon’s fires are actually caused by human activity, not lightning.  It’s a reminder that we need to remain careful and vigilant, and adopt “firewise” strategies in the face of the ongoing, climate-induced drought.

We were reminded of the important work that the Legislature did in 2021 in passing SB 762, which put a lot of money into firefighting infrastructure (including aviation equipment, drones, and cameras) and beginning to implement stronger building codes in fire-risk areas.  The new resources are already being deployed and should help us avert the worst this summer.

I did ask the firefighting leaders if they were worried about workforce shortages going into this season, as we’re seeing in many industries and sectors.  They let me know that this is indeed a long-term nationwide concern and Oregon is no exception.  We need to do what we can to get young people into Career/Technical programs in high school and college and onto pathways for year-round employment combining firefighting and sustainable forestry.

I’ll keep reporting on these updates and forecasts as they come to us.


Free Air Purifiers for Those in Wildfire Zones

Related to wildfires, we know that with climate change and the repeated drought conditions, those who live in wildfire zones need to be prepared for dangerous levels of smoke in their homes.  Air purifiers can help keep people safe, but not everyone can afford them.  In order to help address this problem, the Legislature has allocated just under $5 million to purchase 5,000 air purifiers for low-income people living in areas that are likely to experience wildfires. You can read all about it here.



White House Announces New Affordable Connectivity Program

The White House has just announced the start of a new program to help more American households get internet access they can afford—in some cases entirely free of charge.

The new program, called the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) provides eligible households $30 per month off their internet bills. The focus is on lower-income households.

To deliver maximum cost savings to families, the Biden-Harris Administration has secured also commitments from 20 leading internet providers to offer ACP-eligible households a high-speed internet plan for no more than $30 per month. Eligible families who pair their ACP benefit with one of these plans can thus receive high-speed internet at no cost.

To find out more about eligibility, along with the providers that are making this commitment, and the process for signing up for ACP, here's more.





Weekly Report: Gradual Increases in New Cases and Hospitalizations, COVID Deaths Remain Low

OHA didn’t produce a weekly report this week (they’re on an every-other-week cycle).  We’ll get their next weekly update next Wednesday. In the meantime, here is some high-level information that can help let us know where we appear to be headed here in Oregon.  At the end of the newsletter you’ll find graphs that I’ve put together showing the daily counts and trends for the last two weeks.

Overall, we see ongoing increases in new cases, test positivity rates, and the number of new hospitalizations, along with low rates of COVID deaths.

  • The big week-over-week increases that we’ve been seeing recently may be slowing down. OHA reported 8,990 new cases of COVID-19 during the week of May 6-12 (a 7-day average of 1,284 per day) and only a slight increase over last week’s 8,568. The number of new cases is again likely an undercount, as many people are using home tests to determine their infection status but are not reporting those results.
  • On Thursday there were 226 COVID-19-related hospitalizations, vs. 184 last Thursday. We appear to be on track to hit the peak of 321 by mid-June projected in the latest OHSU forecast.  Again, many of these hospitalizations are not in and of themselves due to COVID—they include those who tested positive after having been admitted for other reasons.   
  • The number of COVID patients in Oregon’s ICUs is now 32, an increase of 8 from last week’s 24.
  • There were 36 reported COVID-19-related deaths during the last week, vs. 18 last week.  
  • Reported COVID-19 test results increased again over the last week. There were 100,630 reported, vs. 91,974 last week.  Again, this probably doesn’t count the majority of tests happening at home.
  • Average test positivity for the last week was 10.5%, another increase from the previous week’s 9.6%.


Weekly County Report: 6 Counties Now at Medium Risk

OHA is no longer providing a weekly county report each Monday, but there are still ways to track this data.  According to the CDC Daily Counter (updated each Thursday) six Oregon counties have reported infection rates that place them in the Medium Risk category:  Benton, Clackamas, Columbia, Deschutes, Multnomah, and Washington.  These are the same as last week, except that Malheur County has gone back to being Low Risk, as are all the remaining Oregon counties.

Again, we must remember that these are only the tests results that are reported.  With the prevalence of home tests, there are certainly many more positive cases out there that have not been reported.

Here’s what the CDC recommends for this category:  Stay up to date with COVID-19 vaccines. Get tested if you have symptoms. Wear a mask if you have symptoms, a positive test, or exposure to someone with COVID-19. Wear a mask on public transportation. You may choose to wear a mask at any time as an additional precaution to protect yourself and others. If you are at high risk for severe illness, consider wearing a mask indoors in public and taking additional precautions.

We can also track the test positivity rates for each county and the state as a whole at this dashboard. The test positivity rates reported this week show continued increases.

Among the reported cases, the statewide infection rate has risen from 10.4% last week to 11.5% this week.

At 12.0%, Multnomah County is again above the state average, but it has declined slightly from last week’s 12.3%.  It is also below the the Portland Tri-County average, which is now 13.2% (up from last week’s 12.0%). 



This Week’s Wastewater Monitoring Report Shows Steady Increases in Six Cities

With testing reports giving us just a fraction of infections out there, wastewater monitoring has become a more reliable indicator of the amount of virus in cities around the state. That report is updated each week.

This week’s report shows us that the following cities are showing sustained increases:  Forest Grove, Durham, Portland, Canby, Medford, and Ashland.

Additional COVID Updates and Links




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Here again are some COVID resources that you will find useful:

If the above links are not providing you with answers to your questions or directing you to the help that you need, please consider me and my office to be a resource.  We’ll do our best to assist you or steer you in the right direction.


Want to See Past Newsletters?

If there was COVID-related information in a past newsletter that you want to go back to, but find you’ve deleted it, you can always go to my legislative website (, click on “News and Information,” and you’ll find them all there.  Also, if someone forwarded you this newsletter and you’d like to get it directly, you can sign up for it there.


dembrow signature

Senator Michael Dembrow
District 23

phone: 503-281-0608
mail: 900 Court St NE, S-407, Salem, OR, 97301