March 12th Update from SD 23

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Michael Dembrow

March 12, 2023

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.

In tonight’s newsletter you’ll find information about what’s going on in Ways and Means, which had a big meeting on Friday.  There we approved the Governor’s Housing and Homelessness package and rebalanced the current budget in preparation for closing it out.  You’ll also get a report on what’s going on in the Washington Legislature, which is about six weeks away from the end of its 2023 session.

On the COVID front, last week saw continuing improvements in case numbers,  hospitalizations, and COVID deaths, a very welcome sign. Wastewater analysis also shows overall declines in COVID virus around the state.

This last week also featured the March monthly report from our State Epidemiologist, Dr. Dean Sidelinger, whose message was overall quite positive.  You’ll find more on that further down in the newsletter.

Until next week, please do your best to stay happy, healthy and safe. And let me know if you have any questions or thoughts about anything in this week’s newsletter.


Housing Package Passes Out of Joint Ways and Means

The first of the Governor’s priority packages is headed to the House floor this week.  On Friday the Joint House-Senate Committee on Ways and Means (which I sit on this session) passed HB 2001 and HB 5019 with strong bipartisan support.  These are bills designed to take crucial action on Housing and Homelessness.  They are both on a fast-track to reach the Governor’s desk for her signature before the end of the month, which was the goal that she had set for us.

HB 2001 is the policy side of the package. It does a number of things designed to keep people in their homes, streamline the process of building new homes and housing units, set goals for new housing in cities around the state, oversee the meeting of those goals, address the problem of youth homelessness and inadequate housing for agricultural workers.  You can find details of what’s in the bill here. 

HB 5019 is the funding part of the package. The big ticket items are

  • $33.6 million for eviction prevention
  • $85.2 million to local governments for additional shelter beds
  • $27.4 million to non-profits to support their efforts to provide shelter and address homelessness
  • $5 million to support tribes in their efforts to address tribal homelessness
  • $10.2 million to support families with school-aged children experiencing homelessness or at risk of being homeless
  • $19.9 million to address unaccompanied youth homelessness

You can find details on all these expenditures here.

Here’s reporting on these bills and their passage from OPB.

I voted in support of both of these bills in Ways and Means and look forward to doing the same when they make it to the Senate floor later in the week.  Like my colleagues on the committee, I believe that we are in a real emergency and need to take action ASAP.  Passage of these bills is an important step but it’s not the only step.  To fully address the issues around homelessness, we also need significant investments in addictions treatment and behavioral health.  And that includes investments in our higher education programs to address our workforce crisis in those areas.

I did make a comment during the hearing calling on the Housing and Community Services Department, which is charged with allocating the $85.2 million to local governments for their shelter need, to make sure that cities, counties, and regional governments are applying for funds via joint, coordinated proposals.  The last thing we need is competing, uncoordinated programs.  But it’s something that happens far too often, and it’s a problem that we all need to keep from happening.  Access to these state funds can be an opportunity for better communication and long-term strategic planning—if it’s done right.

The two bills will probably hit the House floor on Wednesday, then head over to the Senate.  There they will run into a hurdle: HB 2001 is 75 pages long.  That means 4 to 5 hours of bill-reading time, unless the Senate Republican leadership agrees to waive the bill-reading requirement, at least for that bill.  We’ll see what happens there.


What Else Is Happening in Ways and Means?

It’s that time of year for the passage of the 2021-23 Budget Reconciliation Bill, aka the Rebalance Bill. It’s HB 5045.  It incorporates the budget changes needed to get us through the current biennium that ends on June 30.  It includes both anticipated savings from programs that will likely not fully spend their appropriated dollars (in many cases due to a lack of workforce) and additional dollars that are needed.  It also includes a return to the general fund of dollars that had been set aside during the interim for the Emergency Board, which makes appropriations that are needed when we’re not in session. 

Passage of HB 5045 will give us a clearer idea of what next year’s starting fund balance will be, which opens the way for our Ways and Means Co-Chairs to finalize their budget proposal.  As you know, the Governor gave us her budget framework proposal at the beginning of February.  Now it’s time for the Legislature’s response.  We’ll see broad targets for the different budget areas.  Those of us who are subcommittee co-chairs are already working on the individual agency budgets, looking for ways to meet the Governor’s request for 5% budget cuts (which may or may not be needed, depending on the May forecast), while making sure that we are meeting the agencies’ critical needs. 

We’re hoping to see the Co-Chairs’ budget sometime between March 20 and the end of the month.


So What’s Going On In Washington?

Unlike Oregon, Washington’s Legislature meets for roughly four months each year. (Oregon meets for roughly five months in odd-numbered years and five weeks in even-numbered years.)  Washington’s session began on January 9th this year, and is constitutionally mandated to end no later than April 23rd.

So they are roughly a month ahead of us in terms of their first-chamber deadline (i.e., the date by which they need to be passed out of their “chamber of origin” or die). Here's their deadline calendar. As you’ll see, our counterparts in Washington hit that deadline on Wednesday. (We hit ours on April 4th.)

This means that we can take a look at which of Washington’s bills are still in play and which will need to come back next session, if at all.  The Northwest News Service has a nice overview. of the big bills that fall into either group.

You’ll see that there is a lot of similarity between our two states in terms of priorities and issues of political controversy.  Most bills in both states are passing with strong bipartisan majorities.  Both of our states are prioritizing actions to deal with housing and homelessness.  But in Washington as in Oregon the partisan divide remains strong on issues related to public safety, reproductive and gender rights, and the environment.

While Washington continues to be a leader in climate action, which makes me happy, it is still having great difficulty in passing legislation to modernize its recycling system, as we did in 2021 (with SB 582)), which makes me sad.  I know that a number of my counterparts up there were hoping to get it passed this year. I know they’ll be taking another shot at it next year.

Of course, getting a bill through one chamber does not at all mean that it will make it all the way through to passage in the other chamber, even when the majority party is the same in both chambers.  All too often, lobbyists who want to kill a bill “keep their powder dry” until it gets to the second chamber, where there may be less awareness of the bill and its history. Advocates all too often focus exclusively on the first chamber, where the lead sponsors are generally from, and haven’t done enough preparation in the second chamber.  Time there quickly runs out (the deadline for the second chamber comes much more quickly), and that’s that.

We’ll see how it turns out for our neighbors to the north.



Weekly Data Report:

OHA now updates and reports COVID metrics once a week, on Wednesdays.  Here are the most recent set of weekly results, for this past week from 3/2/23 through 3/8/23.

This week’s report shows ongoing improvements in COVID metrics here in Oregon.

  • The 7-day average for newly reported infections went down a little again last week, from 315 the previous week to 305 reported infections per day this last week. The number of new cases is likely an undercount, as many people are using home tests to determine their infection status but are not reporting those results.
  • Average test positivity also went down a little last week, from 9.6% to 9.4%. The number probably skews high because it likely reflects a higher proportion of people showing COVID symptoms (and thus reporting or going in for a test, rather than self-testing and never reporting).
  • On Wednesday there were 229 COVID hospitalizations, down a little from the previous week’s 232 COVID-19-related hospitalizations statewide. It appears that the number of COVID hospitalizations peaked earlier, and at a lower level, than had been forecast in the most recent OHSU report from 2 weeks ago. Hospitalizations are now our best indicator of disease spread.  Again, however, most of these hospitalizations are not in and of themselves due to COVID—most are those who tested positive after having been admitted for other reasons.
  • The number of COVID patients in Oregon’s ICUs on Wednesday also went down last week, from 28 to 18 statewide. These are the most serious COVID infections.
  • There were 12 COVID-19-related deaths reported during the last week, down from the previous week’s 26. However, it’s important to remember that many of every week’s reported deaths actually occurred in earlier weeks but were just reported to the state, and others that likely occurred have yet to be reported. The newsletter’s final graph shows when the deaths actually occurred, and you’ll see that the number of COVID deaths each day continues to remain relatively low.


Weekly County Report: Just One County Now at Medium Risk, Others at Low Risk

The CDC assigns risk levels based on a combination of the number of new COVID cases and the number of people in hospital for COVID.

According to the CDC Daily Counter (updated each Thursday), only one of Oregon’s counties—Grant County--is now at Medium Risk, and two are not showing anything (presumably a problem with their reporting data). The remaining 33 Oregon counties are at Low Risk.  

We can also track the cases, deaths, and test positivity rates for each county at this website.

Positivity rates for the three Portland-area counties were again mixed last week.  Clackamas County in now at 12% (up from 8% the previous week). Multnomah County has dropped to 6.3% (down from 8.1%). Washington County has gone down to 9.1% (down from 10.2%).

Remember that these are all based on reported test results, and so are more likely to be a little higher than the total percent positivity (i.e., if one were to include all tests taken).

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This Week’s Wastewater Monitoring Report: Statewide Declines

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, updated on Wednesday, showed statewide declines after two weeks of increases. Twenty-six percent of cities showed declines (up sharply from the previous two weeks’ 6%).  Nearly half of the cities studied (36%) saw increases and sustained increases (down from 46% the previous week).  Twenty-two percent (down from 36% last week and 46% the week before). The remaining 52% showed no change (down from last week’s 57%).

Ashland, Astoria, Gold Beach, Medford, Newberg, Port Orford, and Sunriver were the cities showing sustained increases in last week’s report.


From OHA: COVID-19, Flu and RSV Levels Continue to Drop

During OHA’s monthly COVID-19 press briefing on Thursday, OHA’s health officer and state epidemiologist Dr. Dean Sidelinger reported continued positive trends.

“As we prepare to move into spring in the next couple weeks, my sense of optimism is growing,” Sidelinger said. “We have made it through the worst respiratory virus surge this state has ever seen, and conditions with COVID-19, RSV and influenza are better overall than they’ve been in a long time.”

Key takeaways from today’s press conference include:

Hospitalizations for COVID-19, RSV and influenza in Oregon are dropping overall, but hospitals remain strained by staffing shortages. On March 1, Oregon’s COVID-19-related hospitalizations were at 232, and yesterday they were at 229.

Test positivity for respiratory viruses is trending downward. As of yesterday, COVID-19 test positivity is at 9.6%, influenza test positivity is at 0.3% and RSV rates are low enough to declare RSV season over.

After OHA’s statewide mask requirement in health care settings ends April 3, we encourage those with chronic conditions or compromised immune systems to consider taking steps to protect themselves. This also applies to caretakers and household members of people with these conditions.

If you haven’t gotten your updated COVID-19 booster, please get it. If you haven’t had your seasonal flu shot, it’s not too late. To find a vaccine or booster, go to or call 211.

Dr. Sidelinger acknowledged that his positive outlook may not be felt by everyone.

“To those who have experienced – and continue to face - the challenges of a COVID-19 infection, battled long-term symptoms, cared for ill family members or are mourning the loss of a loved one, I know you have suffered, and I share in your worry, your grief and your sorrow,” he said.

OHA’s monthly COVID-19 media briefing in April will be the final regularly scheduled briefing. We will remain flexible and ready to restart these briefings as conditions with COVID-19 and other respiratory viruses dictate.

Here’s the full press release  on the press conference.  And here’s a direct link to the press conference itself.

Here’s reporting from OPB and from the Capital Chronicle's Lynne Terry.


COVID Q & A from OHA (from OHA weekly newsletter)

Dr. Dean Sidelinger, OHA state health officer and state epidemiologist, and Bill Messer, M.D., Ph.D., Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU), answered today’s questions.

Q: I just got the alert about the state lifting the mask mandate for health care settings, but it doesn't mention nursing homes. Will masks still be required in nursing homes and other congregate care settings? - Jen, Portland

A: “Generally speaking, no. Nursing homes and other congregate care settings fall into the category of health care settings with regards to OHA’s statewide mask requirement. Please note that an individual health care facility may continue to require masking for a variety of reasons, but starting April 3, the statewide masking requirement implemented by OHA for health care settings, including nursing homes, will no longer be in effect.”

Q: After three years and several known potential exposures, I have yet to manifest symptoms or test positive for COVID-19. Likely, I've been very lucky and will eventually be infected, or perhaps I am an asymptomatic carrier and have just not tested in the moment I was infected, or... I may be immune? I wonder whether and how people can volunteer to participate in research of those who have not yet tested positive for COVID-19? – Zoe, Portland

A: “In December we published this blog about so-called ‘super dodgers’—people who have never tested positive for COVID-19—which includes comments from Dr. Bill Messer at OHSU. We passed your question on to Dr. Messer, and here’s his answer:

“‘We don’t have immediate plans to recruit participants for a ‘super-dodger’ study at OHSU, but we and other scientists are interested in understanding how and why some people are seemingly able to avoid COVID-19 despite repeated exposures.

"Researchers at Rockefeller University are seeking to understand exactly that, and they are currently accepting applicants to participate in their study, either in person or remotely. Suffice to say, we will be keenly interested in learning more as the science around SARS-CoV-2 continues to evolve.’”


Additional COVID Updates and Links

  • It’s been three years since the beginning of the pandemic, kicking off a number of retrospectives. Here’s one from the Washington Post, asking the question, Has the virus won?
  • A Washington Post reporter tells us what it was like to be leading the paper’s COVID reporting at the same moment that she was grieving the loss of her 90-year-old mother, who died in the first COVID wave.
  • COVID backlash, taking the form of lawsuits and legislation, is hobbling public health and future pandemic response.
  • For those dealing with Long COVID, a tactic called "pacing" appears to help.
  • a recent episode of National Public Radio’s On Point focuses on the relationship between vaccination and “natural immunity” (i.e., immunity from prior infection). There’s growing evidence that both can be very effective (natural immunity a little more so) at preventing serious infection, though neither can protect us from infection itself. 
  • A longitudinal study  shows that older hospital patients discharged after severe SARS-CoV-2 infection followed one of three cognitive trajectories.
  • A recent survey study of U.S. parents showed that one-quarter misrepresented that their children were free of disease or symptoms or chose not to follow public health measures for their children. They had various reasons for doing so.
  • Chest CT scans of patients with Omicron or who had received two or more doses of the vaccine were much less likely to show the opacities and other severity indications that were prevalent during earlier scans. 
  • From NPR: here's what we know now about Long COVID and its treatment. 
  • I’ve reported previously that Moderna will offer its vaccines free of charge for the uninsured. The tradeoff? It's raising prices for everyone else.
  • For those who follow her column, here's the latest set of Q&A's on COVID vaccionation and treatment from Dr. Leona Wen. 



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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.

dembrow signature

Senator Michael Dembrow
District 23


mail: 900 Court St NE, S-407, Salem, OR, 97301