Oregon sees first death from COVID-19, legislator calls for cash infusion for Oregonians as economy staggers

Dr. Dean Sidelinger, Oregon’s state health officer, speaks about new measures to contain COVID-19 at a news conference in Portland on March 12, 2020 (Jake Thomas/Salem Reporter)

A 70-year-old veteran died Saturday at a Portland hospital from COVID-19, the first known fatality in Oregon as the number of people testing positive for the disease continues to increase.

Oregon officials said the patient, who had underlying health conditions, was diagnosed on March 10 and died at the Portland Veterans’ Affairs Medical Center.

“The individual had no known contact to a confirmed case and had not traveled to a country where the virus is circulating,” the Oregon Health Authority said in a statement Saturday.

The Health Authority also said testing established six more individuals were infected with the disease, bringing Oregon’s total to 36. The state was awaiting results from another 225 tests and 333 people who may have had contact with individuals are being monitored for symptoms.

One new case was reported from the Edward C. Allworth Veterans Home in Lebanon, the ninth so far from there. The home cares for 151 veterans.

Leaders again implored Oregonians to help stop the spread of the coronavirus by following basic health tips and avoiding mass gatherings.

“I ask you to join me in honoring this person’s memory by taking the steps we know are necessary to prevent the further spread of this disease,” Gov. Kate Brown said in a Saturday night statement. “We must do all we can to slow the spread of this disease: avoid large events, follow social distancing protocols and, above all, stay home when sick.”

Dr. Dean Sidelinger, the state health officer, said the community spread of the disease “is something we’ve been expecting. It’s a good reminder to take steps to protect yourself, and vulnerable friends and family members by washing your hands, covering your coughs and sneezes and staying home if you’re sick.”

The developments came as Oregon took a sharp turn to living in an era of a communicable disease that state officials say now could strike 75,000 Oregonians.

With all public schools closed effective Monday, March 16, school districts across the state cobbled together plans to provide free food to make up for missed meals at school. Each school system was devising its own plan for how to get bagged meals delivered. Many were establishing central pick-up points while others intended to run meals out on school buses.

And Sunday was the first time that church congregations across the state avoided traditional services, heeding Gov. Kate Brown’s order to suspend all gatherings of more than 250 people and advising those 60 and older or with certain medical conditions to be in groups no larger than 10.

In community after community, life was being altered by cancellations, frenzy shopping, and local governments struggling to keep up with almost hourly changes.

The cities of Redmond and Hood River, for instance, announced they were suspending all public meetings. The city of Forest Grove declared a state of emergency because of the “threat of imminent widespread illness, human suffering, loss of life, and financial loss.”

The High Desert Museum, south of Bend, canceled a youth climate summit while in The Dalles, the Wind Challenge was canceled.

In Pendleton, a two-day EMS conference at Blue Mountain Community College planned for this weekend was scrubbed while the “Friends of the NRA” banquet was pushed back to June.

In Medford, a Jackson County Justice Court judge granted 60-day extensions to those required to appear in court for traffic tickets.

And the suspension of major league sports was having local impacts. The Hood River News reported that a 10-year tradition of rewarding fifth-grade students with a trip to a Blazer game was disrupted. About 50 students had been picked to go this year.

“Most of our students have never been to a Blazer game and very few have even been to the Moda center,” according to elementary principal Kim Yasui.

Across the state, small retailers and restaurants decided to close. Nike, the Oregon-based shoe manufacturer, announced Sunday morning it was closing all its stores in Oregon and across the U.S.

To deal with panic buying, Fred Meyer announced it had immediate openings in its stores to help restock shelves and clear stores. Winco, the discount grocer typically open around the clock, said it would close late at night to give its employees time to resupply and clean stores.

While health officials confronted the spread of COVID-19, state and local officials are considering the economic impacts, ensuring employers and business owners are aware of low-interest loan programs and other services to cushion what is likely to be a hard blow to Oregon’s economy.

On Saturday night, state Rep. Cheri Helt, a Bend Republican, called for an immediate $1.6 billion distribution to Oregon taxpayers, accelerating kicker tax credits due later this year. She proposed checks be sent directly by Memorial Day and called on legislative leaders to convene a 24-hour special session within the next two weeks.

“The Legislature should lead now to help families and small businesses weather this financial storm,” Helt said in a statement. “School closures, shutdowns and social distancing are critical to slow the spread of the coronavirus, but they also mean financial hardships for the wallets and jobs of Oregon families.”

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