By BROOKE SNAVELY
CENTRAL OREGON DAILY NEWS
The City of Bend will hold an emergency meeting Thursday to review COVID infection rates and enforcement of pandemic safety rules.
The meeting is in response to a request from the Bend-La Pine school board for help reopening the schools.
The school board is asking local government and law enforcement agencies to consider of formal restrictions on tourism and large social gatherings to reduce rates of COVID infection so that schools can reopen sooner than later.
“We were prepared to open Monday, November 9,” said Melissa Barnes Dholokia, vice-chair of the Bend-La Pine school board. “We were going to bring our K-3s in, then gradually open 4, 5 and then our upper grades. The rising case rates completely compromised that.”
As of Thursday, Deschutes County is in the orange level of the state’s COVID 19 metric and rapidly heading to red which means even private schools that opened locally under loopholes may have to close as well.
The county reported 193 COVID cases last week, by far a record. Cases have been rising rapidly for the last three weeks, giving educators little hope the county will be able to meet the metrics to reopen.
The dire situation prompted the school board’s call for help.
“I think it’s a worthy goal and, to be honest, something we should have been working on earlier,” said Gena Goodman-Campbell, a Bend City councilor. “I’m looking forward to understanding what levers the city can pull. We are somewhat limited in what we can do legally.”
The school board asks law enforcement to use all available methods to ensure community adherence to current health policies and guidelines, including holding businesses accountable for maintaining physical distancing, health screening, mask-wearing and breaking up residential parties that are not following COVID 19 restrictions.
“Are we actually tracing where the outbreaks are happening? And how do we get control of those situations,” Dholokia asked. “If there are places that are high risk within our community, then those high-risk community activities need to be held to the same high accountability standards as our children. Our children should not be the only people having to control this virus.”
Dholokia said the school board’s expectation is for a community effort to control the virus.
She says if that does not happen, the governor and state health authorities may close the community down.