▶️ Despite fewer cases, county COVID metrics keeping La Pine-area schools closed


Why are schools in Sunriver and La Pine closed when COVID infection rates in those communities are a fraction of what the county is dealing with?

John Ciolero wants to know why schools in Sunriver and La Pine are closed when these areas represent about 5% of COVID cases in Deschutes County.

“Why are we jeopardizing our kids and their future with a shut down to the schools?,” Ciolera asked. “We are 30 miles away from Bend and the metrics are entirely different here and have been since the onset of this crisis. Why are we staying closed?”

That’s a great question for the governor, says interim Bend-La Pine Schools Superintendent Lora Nordquist.

“As a district we don’t have any flexibility to open some of our schools and not open others,” Nordquist said. “The metrics established by the state put all of Deschutes County in one bucket, so whether you live in La Pine or Sisters or downtown Bend, we have the same metrics we have to abide by and we don’t have flexibility to open our schools right now.”

According to the Deschutes County Health Department, 7.1% of people taking COVID tests test positive.

The rate of infection is even worse per 100,000 residents, placing local schools far into the red zone that requires comprehensive distance learning to keep students and teachers safe.

However, the schools–including La Pine and Sunriver–are providing some limited in-person instruction to about 10 percent of their students.

“That allows us to bring in small groups of students, cohorts no larger than 20. They can’t be there longer than 2 hours at a time,” Nordquist said. “We identify students who are in the most need academically or socially or maybe really need that adult support to help do work or have someone to talk to.”

Ciorelo says La Pine area students are suffering due to the school closures.

“They’ve always suffered by being in a more rural environment. To jeopardize them even further by shutting down our schools when it’s not warranted by the numbers, seems unfair.”

So why, then, are school buses still rolling?

“If you see a bus with a few students on it, they are being delivered to a school from that limited in-person instruction. We are providing transportation for that,” Nordquist said.

School buses that appear empty, except for the driver, are probably delivering meals, another service schools continue providing.

▶️ One freeze ends and another begins; restaurants look for ways to survive winter

The governor’s two-week ‘freeze’ to slow the spread of COVID ends on Thursday, but restrictions remain in place for many Oregon businesses.

Bars and restaurants head into the holiday season forced to offer either take-out or outdoor dining.

It’s a tough ask as winter temperatures make for a less-than-cozy dining experience outdoors.

But as Central Oregon Daily photojournalist Steve Kaufmann shows us, food cart courts and other restaurants are turning to the tried and true and getting creative to survive the end of 2020.

▶️ National study shows students struggling in math; local teacher sees good progress


A national study shows despite being away from the classroom, kids have around the same reading test scores as they did in 2019, but they’re struggling in math.

However, a local teacher says she’s seen the opposite.  

“We found a struggle more so with how to reach out and teach ELA, literature, reading skills and writing when you are not able to point right there and say follow along right here, as well as that digital piece listening to them read over a computer,” said Madras Elementary fifth-grade teacher Sarah O’Gorman.

O’Gorman says math has been much easier to teach. 

The study says students are learning, just not as quickly as in years past.

O’Gorman says teachers are getting creative to figure out what works.

“I feel as a fifth-grade teacher we have found more success with our math aspect because we have been able to hone in on essential standards since we know exactly what we have been looking for and the tests have been more precise,” she said.

In math, she says It was hard to know if students did the work themselves or used a calculator.

“We decided to switch to Google slides and there is an icon where you can put the problem down, but they are expected to show their work by taking a picture of either their white board or piece of paper,” O’Gorman said. “Then we can go back through and really see what steps they took and what their thinking was.”

Even though students haven’t been able to do state or district testing, O’Gorman says the kids are learning.

“From the data we have, they are progressing as needed with where our instruction is at,” she said.

Jefferson County schools will have K-5 kids in the classroom for two hours a day, starting Monday. 

O’Gorman is excited to see her students, even for such a short period.

You can read the full report below


Local ice rinks dealing with COVID restrictions; Redmond rink won’t open this winter

COVID restrictions are putting an unwelcomed freeze on local ice rinks.

Public skating sessions at The Pavilion in Bend still aren’t allowed under the state’s new rules – at least until after Dec. 17th.

The region’s oldest rink at 7th Mountain Resort hopes to open up on a reservation-only basis later this week.

The Village at Sunriver’s rink is open but also requires reservations this year.

And in Redmond, the downtown rink won’t open at all this winter due to COVID restrictions.


2 indicted in separate Bend child abuse cases; suspected of injuring infants

Two Bend residents have been indicted on separate child abuse charges, suspected of causing injuries to their infant children.

In March, Bend Police officers and detectives were called to a local pediatrics office regarding injuries – including a broken bone – to a 9-month-old girl.

Lt. Adam Juhnke said the injuries were classified as “non-accidental trauma” by medical staff and reported to law enforcement.

After a lengthy investigation, which included a search of the family’s home on NE Watt Way in Bend, detectives determined the father, Nicholas Jeremy Flores, caused the injuries, Juhnke said.

The investigation was conducted in collaboration with The Deschutes County District Attorney’s Office, community partners in the medical field, The Kids Center and the Department of Human Services.

On Nov. 3, a Deschutes County Grand Jury indicted Flores on one count of first-degree criminal mistreatment and one count of third-degree assault.

In a separate case, 33-year-old Kristine Anne Bellinger of Bend was indicted on Oct. 30th on the same charges for allegedly injuring her 6-month-old son, police said.

On April 24th last year Bend Police officers and investigators were called to St. Charles regarding injuries to a 6-month-old infant which included suspicious fractures.

The injuries were classified as non-accidental trauma and required to be reported to law enforcement, Juhnke said.

After a lengthy investigation, including serving search warrants at Bellinger’s home and vehicle on NE Forum Drive, it was determined that Bellinger caused the injuries to her son, Juhnke said.

“The Bend Police Department conducted a top-notch investigation and were aided as always by our dedicated partners at the Kids Center and DHS,” said Deschutes County District Attorney John Hummel. “Investigating and prosecuting crimes against children will always be the top priority of my office; it’s comforting to know that the Bend Police Department is staffed with officers who care as much as I do about holding accountable people who abuse kids.”


OHA reports 18 more COVID-related deaths, 1,244 new cases

COVID-19 has claimed 18 more lives in Oregon, raising the state’s death toll to 953, the Oregon Health Authority reported Wednesday.

The OHA reported 1,244 new confirmed and presumptive cases of COVID-19, bringing the state total to 78,160.

The new confirmed and presumptive COVID-19 cases reported today are in the following counties: Baker (5), Benton (28), Clackamas (128), Clatsop (5), Columbia (13), Coos (10), Crook (4), Curry (3), Deschutes (30), Douglas (12), Grant (1), Harney (2), Hood River (16), Jackson (65), Jefferson (12), Josephine (11), Klamath (16), Lake (5), Lane (69), Lincoln (19), Linn (29), Malheur (26), Marion (122), Morrow (7), Multnomah (282), Polk (26), Tillamook (7), Umatilla (61), Union (12), Wallowa (1), Wasco (4), Washington (184), Wheeler (1) and Yamhill (28).

Deschutes County has reported 2,517 total cases and 15 deaths; 925 patients have recovered as of Tuesday, the latest data available.

The county is reporting 1,540 active cases.

Crook County has reported 244 cases and six deaths.

Jefferson County has reported 874 cases and 11 deaths.

According to the OHA, 95% of the new and presumptive cases reported are later confirmed COVID positive.

St. Charles on Wednesday reported 21 current COVID patients. Four patients are in the ICU and one is on a ventilator.

The hospital system has 30 ICU beds; 24 in Bend and six in Redmond.

Deschutes Co. COVID-19 page/data.

Daily COVID-19 hospitalizations dropped

The number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients across Oregon dropped to 549, 28 fewer than yesterday.

There are 105 COVID-19 patients in intensive care unit (ICU) beds. That is six fewer than yesterday.

Weekly cases, hospitalizations set new pandemic highs

OHA’s COVID-19 weekly report released Wednesday set new highs for COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations for the second consecutive week.

OHA reported 9,100 new daily cases during the week of Monday, Nov. 23 through Sunday, Nov. 29, a 5% increase over the previous week.

Weekly hospitalizations associated with COVID-19 rose to 398, a 9% increase, a significant slowing from the previous week, yet still the highest weekly total reported during the pandemic.

There were 86 reported COVID-19 reported deaths, up from 61 the previous week.

People aged 20 to 49 have accounted for 55% of the cases, while people 70 and older have accounted for 74% of the deaths.

During the week of Nov. 22 to Nov. 28,141,356 COVID-19 tests were administered. The percentage of positive tests was 8.6%.

OHA announces changes to the Weekly report format.

Today marked the introduction of major new changes to the weekly report format. The most significant change is a separate report listing all active and resolved outbreaks in Oregon. This will be an ongoing format.

The second change centers around the reporting of COVID-19 cases by ZIP code. This will no longer be contained in the COVID-19 weekly report but will be available elsewhere online.

OHA to change COVID-19 test reporting

OHA is revising its process for reporting test results to align with the new statewide framework announced last week by Governor Kate Brown.

The change will take effect Thursday.

This new health and safety framework is based on four risk levels for counties level of COVID-19 spread: extreme, high, moderate and low risk.

One of the key new metrics in determining the spread of the virus is the percentage of positive COVID-19 tests.

To determine that, OHA will no longer count the people tested and will instead count test results.

This change will provide a more complete picture of the spread of the disease in a community.

To support this change, and to maintain transparency in reporting on COVID-19, OHA is changing its public dashboards. That transition is expected to be complete in about two weeks. During that time, OHA will continue to update its Tableau dashboards on weekdays.

OHA has developed an interim dashboard that will report test results at the state and county levels until the new revised dashboard is deployed.

Stay informed about COVID-19:

Oregon response: The Oregon Health Authority leads the state response.

United States response: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention leads the U.S. response.

Global response: The World Health Organization guides the global response.

2 councilors introduce resolution to ‘protect religious freedom’ in Bend

Two outgoing Bend city councilors announced Wednesday they would introduce a resolution asking the city not to use any money, equipment or personnel to enforce state orders limiting capacity at churches to slow the spread of COVID-19.

Councilors Bill Moseley and Justin Livingston issued a joint statement announcing their “plan to affirm and protect religious freedom in Bend.”

Gov. Kate Brown on Tuesday placed strict restrictions on 25 Oregon counties – including Deschutes County – where COVID cases were peaking.

In the “Extreme Risk” counties, churches are limited to gatherings of no more than 150 people outside and must limit indoor gatherings to 25% capacity or 100 people.

According to the statement, the councilors believed the timing of the resolution was important following a Supreme Court ruling in a similar case last week and the implementation of Brown’s new restrictions on Thursday “that treat religious institutions differently from other sectors.”

Other industries are impacted by the new COVID restrictions.

Restaurants are bars are limited to take-out only or outdoor dining at 50% capacity; gyms cannot open and grocery stores are limited to 50% capacity.

The resolution will be introduced at the council’s Wednesday night meeting.

Crime Lab staffing issues slow murder investigation; DA gives updates on recent cases

Detectives have served 40 search warrants and have multiple suspects in a Bend double murder that’s gone unsolved since August, Deschutes County DA John Hummel said Wednesday.

Hummel said slim staffing at the Oregon State Crime Lab has slowed the progress into the death investigation of Raymond Atkinson Jr. and Natasha Newby.

Police performing a welfare check on August 15th discovered Newby, 29, and Atkinson, 34, dead inside their home at the corner of 12th and Greenwood Avenue.

Later that week, police announced they were investigating leads outside of Central Oregon, but no other information had been provided on the case until Wednesday.

Hummel said he believed the couple was targeted so there was no threat to the community.

But he had no comment on where the suspects might be or their relationship to the victims.

The murder investigation was part of an update Wednesday from Hummel on several recent high-profile cases being handled by the district attorney’s office.

Other cases Hummel discussed Wednesday include a shooting in Drake Park in November.

He said the victim, Jordan Thorn, was recovering well in the hospital, and charges are expected against a suspect soon.

The investigation continues in a fatal multi-vehicle crash on the Bend Parkway near the Colorado Avenue on ramp last month.

The crash, which started after a a BMW, driven by 39-year-old Jonathan Short of Bend, had merged onto the highway and into the left lane, where he struck a Chevrolet pickup driven by 47-year-old Kevin Schultz of Bend.

Schultz’s car crossed the center median into the southbound lane, where it hit a van driven by 37-year-old Christopher Rodea.

Rodea sustained fatal injuries and was pronounced dead at the scene.

Two more southbound vehicles and one more northbound vehicle were also involved in the crash, although none of those drivers or passengers were seriously injured.

Hummel said they have found two surveillance videos he calls “key” to the investigation.

They’re also downloading the computer systems from the cars involved to evaluate.


A charging decision is expected soon in a fatal pedestrian hit-and-run in Redmond Nov. 23rd.

Leroy Hall, 90, was hit first by a maroon 2018 GMC Yukon and hit again by a second vehicle, according to police.

The driver of the Yukon, 19-year-old Anthony Vasquez, left the scene while the driver of the second vehicle remained on the scene, police said.

Police found the Yukon nearby a short time later.

Vasquez was arrested and taken to the Deschutes County Jail on multiple charges including first-degree manslaughter, criminally negligent homicide, felony hit-and-run and DUII.


Additionally, the investigation continues into an alleged assault on Bend’s west side in early August.

Giovanni Ortego was found bloodied on the side of the road, but he doesn’t remember the assault.

Hummel said Ortego’s last known location was the D&D Bar downtown, but there’s no helpful surveillance on the route to where he was found.

He said the case was a dead end unless the public was able to provide new, helpful information.

▶️ Rodeo clown superstar heading to nationals; credits Central Oregon for success


He went from a middle school teacher in Walla Walla, Washington to national rodeo clown rockstar, and his journey began right here in Central Oregon.

“So, all my success I think goes through Central Oregon,” J.J. Harrison said. “Not just Sisters, but Prineville as well and all the rodeos I have done down there. That is really where I developed my skill the best.”

Harrison is heading to the RAM National Circuit Finals Rodeo for the fifth consecutive time.

“Frank Beard, who just recently passed, which is too bad, was an icon in Sisters and Prineville, he was a stock contractor,” he said. “I did this event for Frank and Pat (Beard) saw me and he said I am going to get you some Rodeos, do this and that, I didn’t even know how it works really.”

Things for Harrison took off from there.

“Frank made a call to Glenn Miller, who is an icon, not just in Central Oregon, but in the world,” Harrison said. “He hired me for the event in Sisters and I went down, scared to death, big rodeo for me. I might have been terrible who knows.”

After his performances, the Crooked River Roundup was quick to get him to their rodeo.

“I really enjoy Prineville,” he added. “They are two very different rodeos, it’s funny and that is what’s so cool about Central Oregon. It is such an amazing place. I don’t know why I don’t live there. I love Central Oregon more than any other place on the planet and I have been to a lot of places.”

Harrison, ​who calls Walla Walla home now, says what sets him apart from other rodeo clowns is his ability to adlib on the spot.

“Playing with my buddy Jason Buchanan, who lives right there in Bend, Best sound man in the business,” he said. “We have a great rapport and that allows me and he is there in Prineville. I would take him everywhere I go if I could. We have done so many events together that we really play off of each other. I am a funny guy, but I am funnier with my guy Jason Buchanan behind me with the music.”

For Harrison, the Sisters Rodeo will always have a spot in his heart.

“When people ask, me no matter where I am at, and the rotary group in Clovis, California does this to me every single year,” Harrison said. ‘So, what is your favorite rodeo?’ It’s always Sisters. I always tell them, Sisters.”

The RAM National Circuit Rodeo Final will be in Florida next year.

▶️ Here’s Your Sign: Bend woman decorates downtown with friendly reminder to mask up

For one Bend woman, the lack of masks and distancing at a recent ‘We Will Not Comply” rally was frustrating.

So this afternoon she took to the streets of downtown Bend to counter-protest in her own way.

Central Oregon Daily Photojournalist Steve Kaufmann caught up with her “fact spreading protest” which she hopes will resonate with those who choose not to wear a mask.