By ANDREW SELSKY and GILLIAN FLACCUS
SALEM, Ore. (AP) — Tens of thousands of workers laid off, losing income as rent or mortgage payments are due. Small businesses shut down because of the coronavirus outbreak, and at risk of never reopening their doors again.
A new committee of the state Legislature, which has its inaugural meeting on Wednesday, is tasked with finding solutions to these cascading problems affecting so many across the state. The panel met as authorities said two more people died of coronavirus, raising the total number to three, the Oregon Health Authority reported Wednesday. The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Oregon rose to 75.
“I’m a bartender and my industry no longer exists. I just got this new job so I hadn’t had time to save money for emergencies. Rent is due and I don’t have enough money for food for the month,” a man named Dexter Stevens wrote to the Joint Special Committee On Coronavirus Response.
“Please freeze mortgages and rents and provide assistance to those of us trapped in quarantines across the state. Please help us. We have nowhere to turn,” Stevens said.
Larry Brennan, owner of Arch Rock Brewing Company in Gold Beach, Oregon, said Oregon Gov. Kate Brown’s closure of bars and restaurants for on-site consumption — necessary to slow transmission of the highly contagious COVID-19 virus — meant that orders for beer deliveries were canceled.
“Without some type of economic relief, we will be unable to make our payroll nor pay outstanding invoices and bills within 30 days,” Brennan wrote to the committee. “We need some help, please.”
Sen. Arnie Roblan, a Democrat from Coos Bay and co-chair of the coronavirus committee, said Oregon is experiencing “an economic disaster.”
He said the committee’s job is to get roadblocks out of the way of the governor’s office, figure out what mitigation and recovery efforts will cost and how to budget for it, which would then require approval by a special session of the Legislature.
State health authorities are also opening a temporary 250-bed hospital on the Oregon State Fairgrounds, Brown said. Oregon purchased the pop-up hospital several years ago for a crisis situation such as this and it will be completed by Friday, she said.
State health officials are working to identify 1,000 temporary beds around the state and patients in hospitals that do not have the new coronavirus, and who are in recovery, will be moved to those beds, she said.
Brown said the state has contracted with a private company for 20,000 test kits and that the first batch of 5,000 should arrive soon. The tests will first be used on frontline healthcare workers, first responders and those living in community-style nursing homes, she said.
Brown did not directly address whether or not she would order a shelter-in-place order for the Portland metropolitan area similar to the one underway in the San Francisco area.
“I will just say right now, all options are on the table to preserve the health and safety of Oregonians. We are making the best decisions we can with the information at the time and that information is rapidly changing,” she said. “I am escalating decisions as the cases increase.”
Brown also said she was also pulling together an economic advisory council to assess the impact on Oregon’s economy and suggest ways to bolster it.
Just two weeks after the state Legislature closed early amid much partisan acrimony over a climate change bill, lawmakers must mend fences and find ways out of the economic crisis facing the state.
The 16-member committee, composed of nine Democrats and seven Republicans, must “identify actions that will support economic relief and household stability for low-income workers and small businesses who are at risk of being significantly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic,” according to instructions from Senate President Peter Courtney and House Speaker Tina Kotek.
It must also produce budget and policy recommendations for legislative action in a timely manner and monitor Oregon’s ongoing public health response and make recommendations for further legislative action, if any is needed.
For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia. The vast majority of people recover from the new virus.
The two fatalities reported Wednesday were a 60-year-old woman in Lane County, who died on March 14, and a 71-year-old man in Washington County who died on Tuesday.