June 20th Update from SD 23

Michael Dembrow

June 20, 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. 

The June celebrations continue, with many Pride Month events (the big Pride Parade here in Portland starting in a few hours as I write this), and Juneteenth (parade, concerts, various festivals) this weekend.  It’s wonderful that the pandemic has abated enough to allow the public celebrations to return.  Both of these events are especially important this year, as we find ourselves confronting efforts to subvert the slow, hard-fought progress that has been made in equity and justice for our LGBTQ+ and Black communities. I hope that these celebrations will lead to further commitment to continued progress and a refusal to accept this pushback. It’s crucial that we continue to  educate ourselves about past and present inequities and do what we can to remove them.

In this week’s newsletter, you’ll find information on some important committee changes in the Oregon House, as well as the just-concluded Eastern Oregon Economic Summit, which brought many legislators to Hermiston last week.

On the COVID front, you’ll see that the “cresting” of the current Omicron surge is continuing here in Oregon, pretty much as predicted in the past OHSU forecasts and confirmed in the latest one (see below).  Infections are starting to go down, as is the percentage of positive test results. Hospitalizations and deaths remain relatively low.

Nevertheless, some areas of the state are at high risk for transmission—in this week’s report it’s Coos, Curry, and Hood River Counties—and the CDC is recommending particular caution in those areas.

The big news this week of course was the long-awaited approval of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines for the youngest children.  I expect that some parents will take a wait-and-see approach.  However, the CDC and local public health officials are encouraging parents to get their children vaccinated as soon as possible and I’m sure that many will want to.  We should be seeing doses coming into Oregon and available within the next day or two.

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.

 

 Next Constituent Coffee July 9th

Saturday, July 9th, is the SECOND Saturday in July, but we're breaking with tradition next month because of the July 4th weekend.  

So, July 9th will be our second in-person gathering, with coffee and cookies, back at the Hollywood Senior Center, 1820 NE 40th Avenue (from 9 am to 10:30 am). 

I received a request from a constituent who must limit her in-person contact to include a zoom component to the meeting, and I of course respect her situation.  I’ve found that such hybrid meetings are tough for those who aren’t in the room, but I’ll try to figure out a way to do that as effectively as possible.  I’ll let you know more in the next newsletter.

In general, we'll continue to alternate between in-person and zoom, so the August meeting will be entirely on zoom.

Hope to see you soon!

 

Oregon House Changes Many Committee Chairs

We received word yesterday that Speaker of the House Dan Rayfield has done some reshuffling of the chairs and members of many of the House committees.  This is something that Speaker Kotek did two years ago after the short session had concluded.  With a number of retirements and other changes coming at the end of the year, it does make sense where possible to identify the committee leaders early, so will be able to start working on the bills that will be coming to their committees in 2023. Wisely, the incumbent chairs will remain on those committees to help with the transition, another benefit of this approach.

Here are the major changes:

  • Rep Janelle Bynum (herself a small business owner) is moving from chairing Judiciary to chairing Economic Development and Small Business.
  • Rep Jason Kropf, an attorney, will now chair Judiciary.
  • Rep Rob Nosse, who has chaired Behavioral Health and been co-Chair of the Ways and Means Subcommittee on Human Services, will now chair the Health Care Committee, replacing Rep Rachel Prusak, who is retiring. (No changes were announced for Behavior Health, so Nosse will apparently continue to chair that committee.
  • Rep Andrea Valderrama will replace Rep Nosse as Ways and Means Human Services Subcommittee Chair.
  • Rep Julie Fahey, the House Majority Leader, will give up her position as Housing Chair and take over as Chair of the House Rules Committee from outgoing Chair Barbara Smith Warner. (The majority and minority caucus leaders traditionally serve as Chair and Vice-Chair of Rules.) She’ll be replaced as Housing Chair by Rep Maxine Dexter.
  • Rep Lisa Reynolds will become Chair of Human Services, replacing Rep Anna Williams, who is leaving at the end of the year.

Along with the changes in Chairs, there are also a number of additions and subtractions to the committees.  You can find them all here.

 

Working on the “Urban-Rural Divide”

During the interim period between sessions, legislators generally take time to visit different facilities, businesses, schools, and other sites in their district to get a first-hand sense of their purposes, methods, and challenges.  Getting this kind of perspective can also help prepare us for potential legislation that might be coming in the next session that might affect these entities.

But it’s also an opportunity for us to get a first-hand glimpse at other parts of the state, ideally as guests of the legislators who represent those areas. That experience can be especially valuable when the host legislator is from a different political party. It’s frequently an opportunity to see things from a different perspective, learn from that, and share that information with colleagues and constituents back home.

As I’ve reported before, I’ve already been doing a lot of that this summer, visiting different colleges and universities around the state as part of a task force on higher education.  This past week, I had the opportunity to go back to Eastern Oregon for a few days. This time I was attending the Eastern Oregon Economic Summit https://eowc.biz/eastern-oregon-summit/ in Hermiston. 

The event was organized by Representative Bobby Levy, who lives in the little town of Echo (near Hermiston), who is just finishing up her first term in the Legislature.  Prior to her coming into the Legislature, I knew Bobby as the leader of the Eastern Oregon Women’s Coalition (EOWC), as did SD 23 constituents who have joined me on van trips out to that part of Eastern Oregon as guests of Senator Bill Hansell. Bobby and the EOWC welcomed us, fed us, and then later joined us at a constituent coffee here in Portland.  The EOWC were the chief sponsors and organizers of the Summit.

The Summit included tours of the area focused on agriculture and water, forestry, workforce development, and housing (the booming areas of Boardman and Hermison are especially housing-challenged right now).  With several of my colleagues I returned to Three Mile Canyon Farm, the huge dairy located near Boardman, which has recently shifted from generating electricity with methane captured in its biodigesters to creating high-value renewable natural gas (highly prized as transportation fuel, thanks to Renewable Fuel Standards).

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Then on Friday there were presentations and breakout sessions on a variety of topics affecting Eastern Oregon. Senator Merkley was there in person, reporting on various current and potential federal investments into this region (including many designed to combat climate change and address its effects).  Bob Whelan from EcoNorthwest helped put our current inflation challenges into perspective.  Tina Kotek and Betsy Johnson (and Christine Drazan via pre-recorded video) were there to answer questions and introduce themselves and their campaigns for Governor to the Eastern Oregon audience.

But I will say (humbly) that the high point of the day was the panel of legislators--House and Senate, Democrats and Republicans—commenting on the importance of working together to solve problems.  There was actually no set topic for the panel, but that was the theme that was repeated by each legislator as the mic was passed down the row. The very fact that seven Westside D’s had driven over to join their four Eastside R colleagues made a strong impression on the audience.  Here's a nice write-up on the session from the East Oregonian.

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From Left to Right: Sen Kayse Jama (D-Portland), Yours Truly (D-Portland), Sen Lynn Findley (R-Vale), Sen Janeen Sollman (D-Hillsboro), Rep Bobby Levy (R-Echo), Sen Bill Hansell (R-Athena), Sen Elizabeth Steiner Hayward (D-Portland), Rep David Gomberg (D-Lincoln City), Sen Lew Frederick (D-Portland), Rep Ken Helm (D-Beaverton), Rep Greg Smith (R-Morrow).

 

Signing Up for Gun Violence Prevention

Last week I reported on the deal that appeared to have been reached in the U.S. Senate to move a modest package of gun-violence-reduction efforts.  As the lawmakers begin to put statutory words on paper, though, some fissures have appeared.  Hopefully, this hiccup will soon be resolved and Congress will get this done.

The package is long overdue, and for parts of the country will make a difference.  The additional funding for mental health treatment that it includes will definitely benefit states like Oregon, which have already enacted most of the provisions in the package. 

Other states have recently stepped up and enacted additional legislation to promote responsible gun ownership that (so far at least) the Supreme Court has ruled are compliant with the Second Amendment.  So should we.

Let me take the opportunity again to remind you of the signature-gathering that is occurring to get an important initiative onto the ballot.  It’s Initiative Petition 17—The Reduction of Gun Violence Act, an effort organized by a coalition of faith leaders. It would do two important things: limit the ammunition capacity of firearms magazines and require a permit to purchase a firearm. Both of these strategies have been shown to be very effective in limiting gun violence.

Here’s info about the initiative and the effort behind it, lifteveryvoiceoregon.com

As a result of the recent, tragic instances of gun violence, the effort has been gaining steam day by day.  What once seemed like a long shot now seems within reach--if the effort continues to build.  But the deadline (July 8) is fast approaching.

Thanks to changes recently made by the Legislature, you can now download, print out, sign, and mail in a petition directly from your home. Here's how.

Getting this passed will send a clear message to the Legislature that Oregonians want real change right away and will also send a strong signal to the nation as a whole. However, this is not a well-funded campaign, and getting a measure onto the ballot is not easy. Please do what you can to help, starting with your own signature.

 

ON THE COVID FRONT

The Latest from OHA

Oregon Health Authority (OHA) held its monthly media availability on Friday, providing an update on COVID-19 in Oregon, with a focus on the implications of the state and federal reviews taking place through this weekend for vaccines for children under 5 years of age.

Dr. Dean Sidelinger, our State Epidemiologist, highlighted the latest data trends, showing that hospitalizations for COVID-19-positive patients in Oregon have hit the peak projected by current modeling (see below for the latest OHSU forecast) and that Oregon still continues to have a high level of community spread in some parts of the state.

Sidelinger also provided an update on the next steps in federal and state reviews for authorizing Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for children 6 months through 4 years of age and Moderna COVID-19 vaccine for children 6 months through 5 years of age.

Sidelinger was joined by Dr.Dawn Nolt, professor of pediatrics (infectious diseases) in the OHSU School of Medicine, who explained vaccine safety and what Emergency Use Authorization means for this age group, including reduced risk of severe disease.  

Nolt emphasized that — as a pediatrician, an infectious disease doctor, and parent — her key advice is that children get vaccinated as soon as they can. Despite the fact that young children are less likely to have severe consequences from COVID than older children and adults, COVID is in fact among the top ten causes of children’s death in this country.  With prolonged testing showing that the vaccines are safe for children, there’s really not a reason to wait.

Here are the talking points from the media availability. You can also watch it here.

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Biweekly and Weekly Reports:

Biweekly:

OHA’s COVID-19 Biweekly Data Report, released on Wednesday, shows a decrease in COVID-19-related cases, hospitalizations and deaths since the previous biweekly period. The biweekly Outbreak Report was also released on Wednesday. 

As predicted in the last OHSU forecast, the current Omicron wave appears to have crested.  After many weeks of big week-over-week increases, in this data report OHA reported 21,078 new cases of COVID-19 from May 29 to June 11, a 5% decrease over the previous biweekly total of 22,172. 

The biweekly Outbreak Report shows 25 COVID deaths in congregate care settings over the last two weeks, up from 14 for the previous two weeks.

At the end of the newsletter you’ll also find graphs that I’ve put together showing the daily counts and trends for the last two weeks.

Weekly:

Overall, we’re seeing a stabilization or slowdown in the rates of increase.

  • The big week-over-week increases in positive test results that we were seeing are continuing to slow down. OHA reported 9,757 new cases of COVID-19 during the week of June 3-9 (vs. 10,982 the week before), a 7-day average of 1,394 per day (vs 1,569 the previous week). 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 303 COVID-19-related hospitalizations, a small decrease from 312 last Thursday. Again, this confirms the OHSU forecast that we have reached a crest in new hospitalizations. 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 was 36 on Thursday, an increase last week’s 31. These are the most serious COVID infections. Though this number is extremely low relative to earlier in the pandemic, it’s not clear why it is rising. 
  • There were 34 reported COVID-19-related deaths during the last week, vs. 43 last week.
  • Average test positivity for the last week was 11.9%, a small decrease from the previous week’s 12.3%. Again, this number skews high because it likely reflects a higher proportion of people showing COVID symptoms (and thus going in for a test, rather than self-testing).

 

Weekly County Report: Three Counties Now at High Risk,  22 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), three Oregon counties are again at High Risk of COVID Transmission (Curry, Coos, and Hood River). The CDC recommends that people wear masks in public indoor settings in those counties.  They replace Lane, Douglas, and Jackson, which are now back to Medium Risk).

Twenty-two Oregon counties (up from 18) have reported infection rates that place them in the Medium Risk category:  Baker, Benton, Clackamas, Columbia, Crook, Deschutes, Douglas, Gilliam, Jackson, Jefferson, Klamath, Lane, Linn, Malheur, Marion, Multnomah, Polk, Sherman, Union, Wallowa, Wasco, and Washington.  The remaining eleven Oregon counties remain at Low Risk.

Again, we must remember that these are only the tests results that have been 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 declined from 12.3% last week to 11.9% this week.

At 12.9%, Multnomah County is now showing declining percentages, down from last week’s 14.0% and 16.6% the week before.

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This Week’s Wastewater Monitoring Report Shows Decrease in Number of Cities with Steady COVID Increases

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 3 cities (down from 9 last week) are showing sustained increases:  Grants Pass, Medford, and St. Helens.  These three were all on last week’s list as well.  I’m happy to report that Portland is now showing sustained decreases.

 

OHSU Forecast: The Current Surge Has Crested and Gradual Declines Will Continue

The current OHSU Forecast Report,  published Friday evening, uses data provided by OHA and others that project how fast the virus may spread in the population and provides projections on possible outcomes, including infection rates and impacts on hospital capacity.  The lead author is Dr. Peter Graven, Director of OHSU’s Office of Advanced Analytics.  It appears every two weeks.

This forecast remains essentially the same as previous forecasts going back to April 8.

The new report confirms that cases have now crested and we should continue to experience reductions. It is worth noting again that many if not most of those are not being admitted for COVID but have tested positive upon admission. The number of those in intensive care for COVID remains very low.

Here are key observations in this week’s report:

  • The forecast has not changed much over the last two months because actual data closely match the model.
  • Oregon cases levels are about middle of the pack (12th in US) and appear to have crested.
  • The peak so far has been 327 on June 5th. That is expected to be the peak for the BA2 wave.
  • Wastewater evidence shows that viral concentrations in Portland appear to have peaked.
  • As infection rates go down, there will be slightly less impact on hospital staffing.
  • As of June 13, 299 patients were in Oregon hospitals, down slightly from 307 on June 3, and slightly fewer than originally anticipated in the model.
  • Due to the high prevalence of infections and low hospitalization rate per infection, a significant share of hospitalizations are expected to be incidental [i.e., the patient was not hospitalized FOR COVID but tested positive upon admission.]
  • The number of cases remains high in our region.
  • Notably, the number of people reporting they had symptoms of COVID-19 has dropped in the last week.
  • As of June 12.4% of occupied ICU beds had COVID-19 patients in them statewide.
  • As of 6/12/22, 4% of occupied ICU beds are filled with COVID patients. This level has remained very low during the BA2 wave.
  • 11 children were in Oregon hospitals, a slight decrease from two weeks ago.
  • Wastewater surveillance showed higher levels of disease, consistent with the high number of cases. These levels may have peaked in some areas.
  • Half of Oregon’s COVID-19 cases are now caused by the BA2.12.1 variant. The BA4 and BA5 variants are increasing as well. These variants will likely continue to keep infection levels high.
  • The BA4 and BA5 variants are showing the potential for a secondary wave or slower decrease in infections. The deaths in Portugal show the new wave could be less mild than the current BA2 wave.

 

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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 (senatordembrow.com), 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.

Best,

dembrow signature

Senator Michael Dembrow
District 23


email: Sen.MichaelDembrow@oregonlegislature.gov
web: www.senatordembrow.com
phone: 503-986-1723
mail: 900 Court St NE, S-407, Salem, OR, 97301