▶️ Full-time homeless shelter in the works for Bend as camp cleanup planned

The City of Bend has received millions of dollars in grants to help the houseless community.

Multiple projects are in the works, but one could make a big impact soon.

“In some cases people have established almost permanent dwellings and those are where we are starting to have issues with a removal concept,” said Peter Murphy, a spokesman with the Oregon Department of Transportation.

ODOT posted signs recently warning campers near the Revere Avenue/Parkway ramps.

The agency is cleaning up the area next week. 

Murphy also says they’re working with other organizations to help those displaced.

“We have Veterans Outreach, Shepherd’s House, the city, county,” said Murphy. “I mean there is a lot people who are focusing attention on what to do here. It really does takes a community to effort to figure out of a community solution is and we are partnering closely with these other agencies.”

But Shepherd’s House and COVO say they are not involved in any relocation efforts, and Murphy says ODOT’s work begins and ends with operating the highway.

“It is not OK as a community to kick someone out of the area and not have a bed for them, a place for them to go,” said Bend City Councilor Megan Perkins. “That is why we are working so hard right now. The city is working at a frantic pace right now to see how fast we can provide these beds.”

Perkins says the city received several funds to help address the unhoused population.

Oregon House approves funding for Bend emergency housing shelter

“We have a $2 million dollar funding that’s coming in from Representative (Jason) Kropf’s legislative allotment, which will provide a year around low-barrier shelter,” Perkins said.

That would replace the cold-weather warming shelter near Bi-Mart.

“We’re trying to find as many properties as we can that would fit the bill,” said Perkins. “The current warming shelter which just closed in late March is an opportunity to be a year-round situation.”

The city expects to release more details on the project soon.

▶️ ODF declares earliest fire season in over 40 years

It’s dry here in Central Oregon.

So dry in fact, as far the state is concerned our region’s fire season will start earlier than ever this year.

The Oregon Department of Forestry says fire season in certain areas officially begins this weekend.

A fire season hasn’t been declared this early in more than 40 years.

“What we’re seeing right now we typically see, we’re seeing about a month early,” said Oregon Department of Forestry Central Oregon District Public Information Officer Christie Shaw. “This is actually the early declaration of fire season.”

For much of Central Oregon ODF’s fire season starts this Saturday.

Basically, the fire calendar moves forward a month and fire managers are on guard early with last year’s disastrous wildfires fresh in their memory.

“For these conditions right now, each day we are setting daily maximums in those areas,” said Shaw.

BLM announces fire prevention orders to decrease human-caused wildfires

The ODF’s Crook County unit consists of parts of Jefferson, Crook, and Deschutes County; the Dalles unit, which stretches through Hood River and Wasco Counties to the Columbia.

Fire season starts over the weekend for both units.

“I think the entire state of Oregon is in some sort of drought,” said Fire Weather Program Manager for the Northwest Interagency Coordination Center John Saltenberger.

“We’re also seeing not only the entire state of Oregon being in some form of drought, but the areas that have severe and exceptional drought are expanding week by week,” he added. “So drought is here and it is worsening.”

RV campers on the shores of the Haystack Reservoir know campers will have to be extra careful.

“I think this is going to be a very, very bad one,” said camper Rodney Wight.

“Fire is unforgiving … period,” added Jim Williams.

“If we don’t see a change in the weather that is not in the projections I see, we’re going to see increased restrictions pretty quickly,” said Shaw.

For now, those restrictions prohibit smoking and ban the use of certain types of explosives and ammunition.

▶️ Madras, Prineville mayors say their communities can reach vaccination goal

Jefferson and Crook Counties are among the counties needing big boosts in vaccination rates before they can move to the lower risk category.

But leaders in their two biggest towns  – despite some skepticism of the vaccine – say the governor’s goal of 65% is within reach.

“I am just happy that governor Brown is finally reaching out to people and is giving us hope and giving us a chance to heal,” said Madras Mayor Richard Ladeby.

Ladeby says businesses are now seeing the light at the end of the tunnel.

“I know our citizens and business are waiting to be ready to open up,” Ladeby added.

While Deschutes County is expected to reach the 65%goal by next week, Jefferson and Crook County have a ways to go.

Jefferson County’s vaccination rate is just 46%.

“I think we got some outlying people that are concerned and I think we need to address those concerns instead of ignoring or pushing them,” said Ladeby.

Crook County’s rate is even lower at 42%.

▶️ ‘I think it’s a joke:’ Prineville residents voice hesitations about COVID vaccine

“A lot of people are against getting the vaccine it seems in our county,” said Prineville Mayor Jason Beebe.

Both Ladeby and Beebe say a 65% vaccination rate is attainable.

“I can’t tell business or people what to do personally,” said Beebe. “They have to choose that on their own and I support that because that is our freedom to do that.”

Beebe plans to discuss with City Council and Crook County Commissioners about how to proceed.

“We agree on things as a council and I will support whatever outcome comes of that,” Beebe added.

Ladeby and Beebe say their county’s public health departments do a good job getting the word out about getting the vaccine.

“If people want to get it then I encourage them to get it,” said Ladeby.

Ladeby was not comfortable saying whether he is vaccinated, while Beebe says he’s waiting for more research to decide whether he will get the shot.

▶️ COVID cases at Thriftway in Madras leads to ripple effect in employee shortage

It doesn’t take too many COVID cases to handcuff a small-town grocery store.

Three employees at Erickson’s Thriftway in Madras tested positive for COVID-19 last month, leading to 14 days of quarantine. 

And leading some employees to quit in fear of catching the virus themelves.

It also caused several other factors that put them in a bind.

“We have had 6:30-10 o’clock for decades and now we have to close at 7 and we might even be changing our hours even more to get through this rough patch we seem to be having,” said Erickson’s Thriftway Co-Manager Kevin Eidemiller.

Eidemiller says they may have to close one day a week because of a staffing shortage.

It started when around 10 employees had to quarantine.

“We had three people out from the meat department, a few people from the bakery, a few from the sales department and a couple of managers out,” said Erickson’s Thriftway Co-Manager Savannah Moss.

Three employees tested positive for the virus, including Eidemiller.

“We take every precaution here at the store and once again we keep up with the county and state or we wouldn’t be in business,” said Eidemiller.

The store shut down one day last week to sanitize, shortly after, six employees quit, three saying they were afraid.

“Basically, saying they didn’t want to get infected, or they didn’t want to expose themselves,” said Moss.

Moss says there have been days when they’ve been short nearly 20 positions, leading to other issues.

“We had limited product out in our shelves, especially in our meat department last week that made quite an impact there,” Moss added. “We are slowly trying to open back up ours and get back to our full extent.”

Just like many employers across the country, Thriftway is now struggling to find new workers.

“Now you can find higher paying jobs because there is such an off balance of salaries, especially in Central Oregon,” said Eidemiller.

OSHA says there have been no COVID complaints toward Thriftway and Jefferson County Public Health says this was not a workplace outbreak.

Thriftway’s General Manager is also considering reducing hours at the Prineville store due to hiring issues.

▶️ St. Charles official welcomes vaccine approval for kids 12-15

The FDA on Monday approved the Pfizer COVID vaccine for kids as young as 12, which means Central Oregonians can now register 12-15 year-olds to get the vaccine.

It’s welcome news for local health officials who are hoping to get as many residents as possible vaccinated.

“I have been very encouraged with the safety and efficiency of this vaccine so far,” said Dr. Cynthia Maree, Medical Director of Infection Prevention for St. Charles in Bend. “We have given out millions of doses and when you look at the studies in adolescents, they are very encouraging. 100% efficiency. That’s amazing.”

Maree says clinical trials of the vaccine show even fewer side effects in kids than adults.

“We do think this has incredible protection in this population,” she said. “They seem to be creating a great response when it comes to antibodies.”

Some on social media have questioned whether the vaccine disrupts fertility in adolescents.

Maree says there is no proof that is true for either gender.

“In fact, it is recommended for women who are trying to become pregnant or are pregnant because of the risk of getting COVID when your pregnancy is severe,” said Maree.

Pfizer COVID-19 shot expanded to US children as young as 12

She points out the vaccine protects young people from contracting the virus, which could cause long term health effects.

Maree says it also helps protect others.

“We want to decrease the spread of COVID in our communities and so in order to achieve that we really need everyone to be vaccinated,” Maree added.

Public Health plans to make the shot available for kids at local clinics and pharmacies, just as it is for adults.

▶️ ‘Same patterns reemerging over time’ as Deschutes Co. COVID cases remain high

COVID cases were down 13% across the country over the last week.

“We are seeing progress in terms of decreased cases, hospitalizations and deaths,” said CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky.

In Oregon, health officials say the state is past its fourth wave.

“This latest wave of COVID-19 cases seem to be cresting and today 15 counties will be moving out of our extreme risk category,” said Gov. Kate Brown.

But in Deschutes County, it’s a much different story.

“People keep asking why is this different and really from our standpoint and our case investigators we are seeing those same patterns reemerging over time,” said Emily Freeland COVID Operation Section Chief for Deschutes County Public Health.

Freeland says those patterns include social gatherings, going out while sick, not wearing masks and not social distancing.

A spike in cases has been seen in people aged 15-to-30.

“So, when you think about when everyone was able to get their first dose of the vaccination for the general population, that didn’t happen too long ago,” said Freeland. “So we haven’t had time for all of those people to get fully vaccinated and we have certainly seen more spread in those younger populations.”

More of that group is getting vaccinated, as hundreds of local high school students got their shots recently at clinics on campus.

Even though Deschutes County has the 5th highest vaccination rate in the state, more COVID cases (547) were reported last week than any week during the pandemic.

This week the county is on track to reach around 500 COVID cases.

Oregon Public Health’s State Epidemiologist Dr. Dean Sidelinger says vaccinations and COVID precautions are helping the state’s case numbers.

“Daily cases and COVID-related hospitalizations have fallen slightly from the peak we experienced in mid-April,” said Sidelinger. “Our most recent weekly report showed a 3% decline in cases after five weeks of twenty plus percentage gains. Hospitalizations have also dropped 3% this last week.”

▶️ Businesses ready, doctors worry ahead of relaxed COVID restrictions

After just one week in the Extreme Risk category, Deschutes and Crook counties move back to High Risk on Friday.

That means fewer restrictions on indoor dining and gatherings.

It has business owners celebrating and local health officials worried.

“Getting that news from the governor and building on that is really exciting,” said Pine Tavern General Manager Anthony Avraam.

With the increase in COVID hospitalizations dropping below 15%, 15 Oregon counties get to drop back down to the high risk category on Friday allowing the return of limited indoor dining at bars and restaurants. 

“It felt a little like restaurants were being singled out and it is hard plan when you have constant changes on what your business is going to look like,” said Avraam.

Things should be more consistent for Avraam as Gov. Kate Brown expects counties will not return to Extreme.

COVID restrictions to ease in Crook, Deschutes counties with return to ‘High Risk’

“That allows us to keep our staff and plan accordingly as far as what our menu is going to look like, what our restaurant is going to look like and even starting hiring from what we expect will be a busy summer,” Avraam added.

Oregon’s Restaurant and Lodging Association believes the state is heading in the right direction.

“Hopefully, worst-case scenario end of June Oregon’s economy is fully reopened,” said ORLA President Jason Brandt. “We’re in May, so right now is the time to start planning for more flexibility.”

With local COVID cases locally almost higher than they’ve ever been, doctors have concerns.

“The strain on us, the quality of care that our patients are getting and the fact that we are honestly just canceling appointments and shutting down clinics, it’s catching up to us and it’s taking its toll,” said Lead Physician at St. Charles Prineville, Dr. Natalie Good.

Good says hospital workers are stressed and overwhelmed.

“We’re really to the point where people come in with non-COVID things and it’s getting harder and harder to take care of them,” Good added.

Avraam says the Pine Tavern is taking all necessary health and safety precautions and is ready for Friday.

“We are certainly thankful we can get our feet down under us and get going in building Bend back together and getting the city back to normal as soon as possible,” Avraam said.

The governor and OHA reevaluate state metrics and risk levels weekly.

▶️ Local ‘UFO’ sightings turn out to be run-of-the-mill FOs…satellites to be exact

Reports of UFO sightings across central Oregon are again lighting up social media with folks from Madras to La Pine saying they’re seeing something strange.

“It appears to be like stars or just lines of these glowing things,” said Madras resident Hector Torres. “I look up and there they are. I counted the first row, a pretty good stretch of like 10 of them. A minute later there was 40 of them.”

Three mornings in a row, Torres and his family saw something unusual in the sky.

“One of my coworkers, he also saw the same thing this morning, so it makes me feel a little better than I am not the only one,” said Torres.

Sunriver Observatory Manager Bob Grossfeld says they aren’t alone.

“We’ve been getting phone calls and emails these last couple days and in particular this morning from the 9-9:30 sighting yesterday,” said Grossfeld.

So, what are these objects and where are they from?

“On May 4th from Cape Canaveral, SpaceX launched a big array of Starlink satellites, which are the communication, internet satellite system they want to develop,” said Sunriver Observatory Lead Paul Poncy.

Once in orbit, they’ll join the more than 2,000 already providing broadband internet to underserved areas around the world. 

SpaceX expects much of its network, comprising tens of thousands of Starlink satellites, to be completed by the end of this year.

Poncy says it puts on quite a show just after sunrise or sunset.

“You don’t see satellites in the dead of night,” Poncy said. “The best time to see satellites is early evening, early morning when there is reflecting sunlight.”

Wednesday night’s sky show also includes a meteor shower.

“If nothing else if you don’t see satellites, you’ll see falling stars,” said Grossfeld. “It’s cool because the falling stars, meteors are quick burning, where the satellites are much more steady in the sky.”

You can see the meteor shower after the satellites, later in the night.

▶️ Health officials undeterred as protests continue at high school COVID clinics

Protesters once again gathered outside a Bend high school on Tuesday as health officials conducted a COVID vaccine clinic for teens inside.

Despite the heckling, 114 students chose to get their first dose at Mountain View High School.

“I was very relieved and also very excited to see that they were here,” said Lucy, a freshman about the protesters.

“I thought it was awesome that people were voicing their opinions and voicing what they think is right,” Lucy added.

“They were kind of in the way and they were kind of blocking traffic from moving, said Phoenix, a junior.

“Some of their signs were really obnoxious or ridiculous, like they weren’t really thinking about it,” Phoenix added.

A similar scene happened last week outside Bend High School during the first local high school clinic.

Where nearly 200 students were administered vaccines.

▶️ High school COVID vaccination clinics begin as anti-vax protesters gather outside

Ellie Millan, a PNP and the Mosaic Medical Pediatrics Clinical Medical Director, said she believes the vaccine provides the best path for teens to protect themselves and their families.

“This is a critical junction in the pandemic right,” Millan said. “The vaccines are our way to get back to some sort of normalcy.”

A similar clinic took place in Prineville Tuesday.

There were rumors protesters might demonstrate in front of Crook County High School, but none appeared.

“Hopefully it’s because nobody saw students coming in through the front door because we had set it up for them to come through the back door,” said Emergency Preparedness Coordinator for Crook County Public Health Vicky Ryan.

The Prineville clinic was held next door to the school at the fairgrounds but was only open to teens Tuesday morning, where 46 students were vaccinated.

“The students were very happy to come into a safe environment and get their vaccination,” said Ryan.

Despite protests in Bend, Millan says she will move forward.

“I would just say to choose hope and not fear,” she said.

More clinics are scheduled for Summit and La Pine High schools on Thursday.

▶️ WSPD officer’s act of kindness shines a light on important native dance

There are so many things that happen in the dark.

So many things we try and keep hidden, but some things deserve to be in the spotlight.

“When that spotlight hit initially it felt like I was back at a powwow, and it really overjoyed my heart,” said Warm Springs Resident Sara Dowty. “It really made me happy, made my night, actually pretty much made my year.”

That spotlight came from Warm Springs Police Officer Francisco Corcia.

“I happened to see some cars on the baseball fields next to the community center,” said Corcia.

While checking out the area late at night he found Dowty surrounded by headlights in a jingle dress performing the spotlight dance.

“They were just filming a traditional dance and they asked if I could use the bright lights on my car,” said Corcia.

With Powwows canceled due to COVID, Dowty is submitting her performance virtually.

“And it was raining and normally in a powwow we danced rain or shine, so it was like a good energy about it too,” Dowty said about her late night dance.

Officer Corcia says it was a small gesture to show his respect.

“We get to talk to people on a daily basis; sometimes it’s good, sometimes it’s bad,” said Corcia. “This time is just happened to be turning on some lights, it was that simple.”

Dowty urges other dances to keep performing, keep trying and keep spreading positivity.

“And to officers like this I just want to say thank you for all your hard work and thank you for taking time out of your busy day to do something positive and help make a difference,” said Dowty.

Dowty’s video was submitted to the Southern Oregon University Native American Student Union Annual Spring Powwow.