By BROOKE SNAVELY
CENTRAL OREGON DAILY NEWS
The City of Bend will fund targeted messaging and enforcement campaigns designed to slow Deschutes County’s rate of COVID infections.
Bend-La Pine Schools were planning to open kindergarten through 3rd grade in-person classes this week but spiking rates of COVID infections in Deschutes County forced a delay.
For how long, nobody can predict at this point.
“It’s our job on the school board to advocate for our students and they are suffering: Mentally, physically, emotionally, academically,” said Carrie Douglass, chairwoman of the Bend-La Pine school board. “We believe our community is failing our students.”
The school board asked the Bend City Council for improved health and safety messaging and increased enforcement of mask-wearing and social distancing guidelines on individuals and businesses.
“Could code enforcement go pro-active? Could we hire more staff? We need policy guidance from council to proceed,” said James Goff, Bend Code Enforcement Director.
Citizens filed more than 230 COVID related complaints in the past eight months.
Only one business was cited for violating COVID health policies.
“We could update the emergency declaration to upgrade to a $750 fine for businesses. We could vote on that at the next meeting,” said Eric King, Bend City Manager.
Council also considered raising fines for individuals who refuse to wear masks, but decided the existing graduated fee scale is sufficient.
“The police said ‘no, we really like the ability to have the $100 graduated rate for a first-time offense by a 20-year-old.’ They just think that’s a more effective message and tool for them,” said Mary Winter, city attorney.
Councilors agreed to fund a coordinated campaign focused on young adults, ages 20 to 29, who now have the highest rates of infection.
Messaging about how to safely gather during the holidays will also be developed.
“If we can’t begin to turn the rising tide of COVID 19 cases in Deschutes County, we will be on the state’s watch list,” said Sally Russell, Bend Mayor. “It behooves everyone, every single person to follow the guidelines”
The City of Bend adopted the Oregon Health Authorities’ mask requirements as a local ordinance in July.
Since then, police have provided more than 1,200 masks and reminders on the importance of wearing masks properly and social distancing.