Brown targets Feb. 15th return to class; districts to make final decision


Gov. Kate Brown on Wednesday directed state health and education leaders to launch several new policies in the coming weeks hoping to get Oregon’s elementary school students back in class by the middle of February.

Among the requests is making the state’s current health metrics for a return to class “advisory” rather than “mandatory” beginning January 1st.

“Moving forward, the decision to resume in-person instruction must be made locally, district by district, school by school,” Brown wrote in her letter to Oregon Education Director Colt Gill and Oregon Health Authority Director Patrick Allen.

Most Oregon students have been out of the classroom since early March when the COVID pandemic started to take hold across the United States.

Since then, school districts have grappled with distance learning efforts with varying success while parents juggled schedules and students missed out on important face-to-face interactions with teachers and friends.

“Moving forward, the decision to resume in-person instruction must be made locally, district by district, school by school.”
Gov. Kate Brown

The state dangled a carrot in front of parents this fall by releasing more lenient health metrics, but cases in Deschutes County spiked right after the announcement. 

The governor now wants Oregon school districts and counties to have the flexibility to reopen schools based on the COVID situation in their own backyard.

“In addition to schools continuing to adhere to required health and safety protocols and working in close consultation with their local public health authority in understanding and considering the metrics, teachers, school staff, parents and students should be engaged in this decision-making process to allow schools to make the best choice for their community and their students,” she said.

“Today’s announcement from Governor Brown will not help return students safely to Oregon’s classrooms – it will simply continue what has already been months of confusion and uncertainty for Oregon’s students and educators.”
– Oregon Education Association President John Larson

Redmond School District Superintendent Dr. Charan Cline welcomed Brown’s announcement.

“The Redmond School District is eager to have kids back in school as soon as it is safe to do so, and we know that studies are showing transmission of COVID-19 is rare in schools,” he said. “With Governor Brown’s revision of the public health metrics to advisory instead of mandatory, we now have the ability to start a path toward reopening our schools.”

And in a letter to parents late Wednesday, Bend-La Pine Interim Superintendent Lora Nordquist said they’ve been planning for in-person instruction for months.

“I started connecting with district and association leaders this afternoon and will continue to expand the conversation to others over the break, as we determine specific dates for our phased-in return, based on this new information,” she said.

But the state’s teacher’s union was less than thrilled with the timing of Brown’s announcement during the holidays, saying it will “only result in an increasingly disparate patchwork of return plans throughout the state’s public education system.”

President John Larson said 70,000 educators and the families of 580,000 students “now must spend the holidays trying to understand what these changes mean for their lives and livelihoods.”

“Today’s announcement from Governor Brown will not help return students safely to Oregon’s classrooms – it will simply continue what has already been months of confusion and uncertainty for Oregon’s students and educators,” he said.

Brown said the nearly $140 million in state and federal resources dedicated to school reopening “put this goal within reach for school districts if communities continue to work together to stop the spread of COVID-19 over the next several weeks.”

She shared some good news on Tuesday, sharing that the post-Thanksgiving spike many had feared did not materialize.

Local cases, although higher than they have been since the pandemic began, are once again starting to decline.

In a statement, Brown said both the Legislature and Congress have dedicated new resources for safe school reopenings in 2021, including an additional $50 million approved during Monday’s special session to support schools in the transition to in-person instruction.

In addition, the legislature also passed legislation during the special session that protects schools from COVID-related lawsuits.

“As 2021 approaches and we look to the remaining school year just over the horizon, it is clear that the greatest gift we can give to Oregon’s children this holiday season is to redouble our efforts to act responsibly and reduce the spread of COVID-19 in our communities,” Brown said. “Our students’ learning, resilience, and future well-being depend on all of us.”

On Wednesday Brown said Oregon educators and child care providers would be prioritized in the next wave of COVID vaccines.

In her letter to the ODE and OHA, she directed the agencies to work with schools to “provide on-site, rapid testing as a safeguard to quickly address symptomatic individuals and those with potential exposure to COVID-19.”

Brown pointed to Washington state where “advisory metrics” have allowed more schools to reopen.

“As our neighbors to the north have demonstrated, this does not mean schools can resume in-person instruction without regard for COVID-19 spread in the community, but instead should carefully consider the metrics in their local context, the needs of students and families, and readiness to implement health and safety protocols,” she said. “As we move into a new year, we must all rise to the challenges that COVID-19 presents and prioritizing our children is most urgent.”

You can read Brown’s full letter to the ODE and OHA below.

12.23.20_Schools Letter_final

2nd round of Oregon COVID vaccines to prioritize teachers, child care providers


The second wave of Oregon’s COVID vaccine efforts will prioritize teachers and child care providers, paving the way for a more widespread reopening of schools, Gov. Kate Brown announced Tuesday.

“Our kids need to know they are number one, and that we’re doing everything we can to get them back in the classrooms,” Brown said in a virtual news conference. “Educators and school staff are without a doubt essential to Oregon, and getting our kids back into the classroom is crucial to all of our success.”

Brown and Oregon Health Authority Director Patrick Allen met with the media to give an update on COVID and the vaccination efforts underway across the state.

The governor applauded Oregonians for heeding the call to limit social gatherings over Thanksgiving saying the efforts and two-week freeze “blunted the surge.” She encouraged them to do the same at Christmas and New Year’s.

“I hope you all heard that: thanks to the decisions you, and the majority of Oregonians continue to make, we are slowing the spread of this disease. And while our case counts are still up, we are avoiding many worst-case scenarios,” she said. “This is proof that we determine – we determine – how the next few months play out while we work to swiftly distribute the COVID-19 vaccine far and wide.,” she said.

Cases were down 11% last week compared to the previous week.

The state’s first priority for vaccinations is health care workers and seniors in long-term care facilities, where the first doses are currently being administered.

Through Sunday, Oregon has received 35,100 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, with another 25,350 doses scheduled to arrive this week, according to the OHA.

Oregon also has received a shipment of 12,100 Moderna COVID-19 vaccines, which received Emergency Use Authorization from the federal government over the weekend.

“Because the Moderna vaccine does not need to be stored at the same extremely cold temperatures as the Pfizer vaccine, it gives us the welcome advantages of more quantities of vaccines to provide to hospitals, with more flexibility in how we distribute them,” Allen said. “We’ll use the Moderna vaccines to reach hospitals and clinics that don’t have easy access to the ultra-cold storage facilities that the Pfizer vaccine requires, including more rural health care settings.”

And while Tuesday’s announcement about the next wave of vaccinations offers some hope to those wanting to see their kids back in a classroom, there’s no timetable on when that next phase would begin.

But when that happens, Brown said educators, school employees, and early learning providers would be considered “critical personnel” for Oregon.

The vaccine won’t be required for anyone, she said, but the OHA and other health departments would spend time in the coming weeks making sure everyone in Oregon had the facts about the vaccine.

A one-day special session of the legislature on Monday ended with the passage of an $800 million COVID relief bill that will include resources for schools.

Brown said districts need additional funding to help implement COVID protocols while counties expand testing and contact tracing efforts to ensure schools can reopen sooner rather than later.

Lawmakers on Monday also passed a bill that gives schools some protection against COVID-related lawsuits. Some feared the threat of such lawsuits would dampen a district’s desire to reopen if there was a fear of virus spread.

Bend State Rep. Cheri Helt told OPB the legislation was needed to give school districts the ability to reopen.

“If New York City can bring back their kids in schools, we can too,” she said.

Suspect named in Madras homicide; woman believed to be armed, heading to Mexico

Central Oregon authorities are looking for a 21-year-old Prineville woman suspected in a fatal shooting Wednesday night in Madras.

The woman, Jenna R. Campbell, is believed to be armed and possibly leaving Oregon for Mexico in a newer gray or silver Ford F150 truck.

Jefferson County District Attorney Steve Leriche described Campbell as white, 5’5″ and 110-120 pounds. She has blue eyes and blonde hair.

Leriche said if you run across Campbell, avoid contact and call 911.

The Tri-County Major Incident Team is investigating the shooting, which happened around 9:20 Wednesday night during a fight.

Leriche said law enforcement responded to a home in Madras where the gunshot victim was found.

Officers started immediate life-saving efforts and the victim was taken to St. Charles in Madras but did not survive.

No other details have been released, but Leriche said anyone with information should call Detective Steve Webb at the Madras Police Department, 541-475-2424.

The Tri-County Major Incident Team includes personnel from the Bend, Redmond, Madras and Warm Springs police departments and the Deschutes, Jefferson and Crook County sheriff’s offices.

The Oregon State Police Crime Lab also responded to help with the investigation.

OHA reports 21 more COVID deaths; 1,283 new cases reported

COVID-19 has claimed 21 more lives in Oregon, raising the state’s death toll to 1,283, the Oregon Health Authority reported Thursday.

The OHA reported 1,339 new confirmed and presumptive cases of COVID-19, bringing the state total to 98,936.

The new cases reported Thursday are in the following counties: Baker (2), Benton (20), Clackamas (173), Clatsop (3), Columbia (18), Coos (5), Crook (4), Curry (1), Deschutes (48), Douglas (12), Gilliam (3), Hood River (23), Jackson (82), Jefferson (10), Josephine (24), Klamath (19), Lane (74), Lincoln (8), Linn (60), Malheur (13), Marion (148), Morrow (5), Multnomah (250), Polk (20), Tillamook (12), Umatilla (34), Union (13), Wasco (9), Washington (218), Wheeler (1) and Yamhill (27).

Deschutes County has reported 3,389 cases since the pandemic began; 18 people have died.

The county had 2,245 active cases as of Wednesday, the latest data available – that’s one in 88 residents; 1,079 patients have recovered.

Crook County has reported 368 total cases and six deaths.

Jefferson County has reported 1,204 total cases and 12 deaths.

St. Charles on Thursday reported it had 50 COVID patients; four are in the ICU and two are on a ventilator.

“While having a low number of COVID-19 patients in the ICU may seem like it’s not too big of a deal, it is important to remember that many patients need ICU care for other reasons like heart attacks, strokes or car accidents,” according to St. Charles.

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

The ICU was full as of Tuesday afternoon, according to St. Charles officials.

The number of hospitalized patients with COVID-19 across Oregon is 551, which is three fewer than Wednesday. There are 113 COVID-19 patients in ICU beds, which is unchanged from Wednesday.

The total number of patients in hospital beds may fluctuate between report times.

The numbers do not reflect admissions per day, nor the length of hospital stay. Staffing limitations are not captured in this data and may further limit bed capacity.

More information about hospital capacity can be found here.

First shipment of COVID-19 vaccine arrives at St. Charles in Bend

With lots of smiles and applause, St. Charles in Bend received its first shipment of the COVID-19 vaccine on Thursday morning.

A FedEx truck with only one piece of cargo – a single, temperature-controlled box of 975 does – arrived just before 10:30 a.m., the hospital said in a release.

“This is a historic moment,” said Joe Sluka, president and CEO of St. Charles Heath System. “In the same year a global pandemic landed in the United States, the scientific community delivered a vaccine. It’s a remarkable achievement that gives us hope as we continue to battle this virus and try to return our world to some version of normal.”

Debra Carlson, an inventory coordinator for the hospital’s inpatient pharmacy, donned safety goggles and a special pair of thick gloves while taking the box and placing them in an ultra-cold temperature freezer capable of storing them at -70 degrees C.

“The eagle has landed,” she said into her phone upon taking delivery, calling it “such a symbol of hope and next step forward for us.”

In a news conference later Thursday, Chief Pharmacy Officer Michael Powell said everyone in the pharmacy stopped what they were doing to watch the process unfold and erupted in applause.

He called it “the beginning of the end of working through this pandemic.” 

Dr. Cynthia Maree, who is overseeing the vaccine at the hospital, said the excitement Thursday was a little like Christmas morning.

The vaccines will remain in the freezer until Monday morning when the pharmacy team will begin dethawing and diluting individual doses in preparation for administering them to the first group of caregivers at noon.

It is expected all 975 doses will be dispersed by the end of Wednesday, the hospital said.

Maree reiterated Thursday that while many of the hospital’s caregivers and staff are clamoring to be at the front of the line for the vaccine, others still aren’t sure and want more information.

The goal over the next few weeks is to educate everyone on the vaccine’s safety and benefits, Maree said.

In the meantime, St. Charles caregivers who are eligible for vaccination are receiving notifications via text and email with information about when they are scheduled to receive their first dose.

The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is administered in two doses 21 days apart, so only after receiving a second dose three weeks out will they be considered fully vaccinated.

The vaccine arrives on a day when St. Charles Bend has 50 inpatients with COVID-19, four of whom are in the ICU and two of whom are on a ventilator.

The health system continues to postpone some elective surgeries to free up the staff and beds needed to care for the highest-need patients.

“This year has been a difficult year for all of us, and the fight is not over yet,” said Dr. Jeff Absalon, St. Charles’ chief physician executive. “The stress on our health system continues to be very real. On Tuesday, every one of our ICU beds were full. While today is certainly one to be celebrated, we must acknowledge the difficult road still ahead of us and continue to be vigilant in halting the spread of the virus.”

He said he expects local numbers to continue to rise as post-Thanksgiving cases come to light.



Bend family rescued after SUV gets stuck in the snow near Taghum Butte

A Bend family needed Deschutes County Search and Rescue’s help Monday night after their SUV got stuck in the snow near Taghum Butte.

Dep. Joshua Westfall, the assistant search and rescue coordinator, said dispatch got a call just after 6 p.m. from a stuck motorist off 1820 Road between China Hat Road and Paulina Lake.

The caller, later identified as 48-year-old James Sipe, reported that he and two other family members had been driving on the road when they got stuck in the snow.

Sipe hiked about a half-mile to an elevated location so he could get better reception to call 911, Westfall said.

One Deschutes County Sheriff’s Office Deputy and two Deschutes County Sheriff’s Office Search and Rescue volunteers responded to help.

The DCSO SAR volunteers traveled down China Hat Rd about 12 miles to 1820 Rd where they then deployed in the DCSO SAR ARGO ATV, Westfall said.

DCSO SAR volunteers traveled about nine miles south on the 1820 Rd to Sipes’ location near Taghum Butte in the ARGO, reaching them around 8:28 p.m.

The family and their dog, who were all unharmed, and were given a ride back to Bend.

DCSO resources returned to quarters around 11:00 p.m.

The DCSO would like to remind the public to use caution when traveling on forest roads this time of year due to snowpack.

Road conditions vary significantly and roads can quickly become impassable, Westfall said.

Further, if you are traversing in these conditions be sure to bring appropriate vehicles, equipment, lighting, clothing, food, water, navigation and communication devices.



Les Schwab Amphitheater to get makeover; hopes to attract more varied lineup

Construction started Monday to renovate Bend’s Les Schwab Amphitheater, part of a project aimed at attracting more and bigger acts to the region’s signature live music venue.

The first phase of construction is expected to be finished by June next year, ahead of the concert season.

“We are thrilled to be able to offer the structural capacity necessary to host all of the amazing artists interested in making Bend a stop on their tour,” says Marney Smith, Les Schwab Amphitheater’s General Manager.

Smith said the venue had lost out on artists in the past due to stage capacity.

“Solving that challenge allows us the opportunity to provide an even broader and more varied lineup,” she said. Coupled with the planned accessibility updates, this furthers our goal to provide the best experience possible for both our guests and visiting artists.”

Phase I of construction includes “right-sizing” the amphitheater stage to attract a wider variety of touring artists, comedians and other performers, according to the Old Mill District.

The new stage will feature a minimalist design with pine accents to pay homage to Bend’s vibrant sawmill history, and is designed to minimize architectural impact as much as possible.

The stage will grow moderately larger in size with a significant increase in structural capacity, resulting in a stage height of 62 feet and an additional 1,840 square feet in total stage footprint.

Certain elements from the current stage will be upcycled and re-used in later phases, including steel beams and the custom artwork that currently adorns the back of the stage.

Accessibility enhancements begin in Phase I and will include a full Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) compliant pathway from the ADA gate that spans the entire venue, and screens on stage.

Smith said the privately funded project allows Les Schwab Amphitheater to continue connecting Central Oregonians to live music, improving accessibility and continue bolstering the local economy with live entertainment.

Phase II of construction is expected to begin in Fall 2021, with subsequent phases in following years.

Improvements slated for future phases include re-grading the venue, box seating, the addition of semi-permanent restrooms, new permanent food and beverage options, walk-through metal detectors and more.

Accessibility improvements will continue throughout the multi-phased project, providing passive travel and equivalent seating for all abilities by project completion.

The Les Schwab Amphitheater has provided Central Oregon with nationally touring shows set against the backdrop of the brilliant Cascade Mountains and Deschutes River for the last 19 years.

COVID canceled what was shaping up to be one of LSA’s biggest summer concert seasons, axing two shows by country superstar Luke Bryan and shows from Dave Matthews Band, Vampire Weekend and Ween.

Several of the shows have already been rescheduled for next year.

According to a 2015 Visit Bend Intercept survey, the amphitheater brings in approximately $1.2 million per concert to Bend’s local economy.

BLP Schools announces superintendent finalists; public forum set for Wednesday

Bend-La Pine Schools has announced the names of two finalists for its superintendent position.

The two will participate in interviews this week, including a virtual community forum open to the public on Wednesday.

“We are thrilled to have two exceptional candidates meet our community – one of whom will ultimately serve as Bend-La Pine Schools’ next superintendent,” said Carrie Douglass, board chair. “We believe Bend-La Pine Schools is the best school district in the state, which helped us attract a diverse and talented group of candidates from across the country and abroad. After an extensive and inclusive search process, we’re confident these two candidates demonstrate the competencies desired by our community and Board for our next leader.”

The new leader would take over for Interim Superintendent Lora Nordquist, who accepted the temporary post earlier this year as the pandemic paused the initial search.

Nordquist replaced Shay Mikalson, who left the district in July to take a position with the High Desert Education Service District.

In addition to the community forum, which will be streamed live on the district’s Vimeo and Facebook pages Dec. 16, community members can also learn more about the candidates, the process and submit a question for the public forum on the Superintendent Search website.

Feedback forms will be made available at the beginning of each session, available on our Superintendent Search website.

About the finalists:

Since 2018, Dr. Kristina Bellamy has been the Director of K-12 Teaching and Learning Anchorage School District in Alaska, which serves 48,000 students.

Bellamy previously served as the Director of Curriculum and Instruction at Renton School District in Washington, which serves 15,000 students.

From July 2013 through July 2016, she worked as the founder and then CEO of SOAR Academy charter school in Tacoma, one of Washington State’s first public charters, which served more than 100 students.

She has more than 18 years of public education experience including serving as a teacher, principal and administrator. She holds a Doctorate of Education Leadership and Policy Studies.

“I am widely regarded as a tenacious advocate for students, and a culturally responsive leader who motivates and inspires others to action. As a systems-thinker, I build adult capacity to handle adaptive challenges, while driving equity- focused inquiry and action,” Bellamy stated in her application packet.

Bellamy’s virtual public meeting will happen Wednesday at 6:15 p.m.

Find her resume here.

Since 2018, Dr. Steven Cook currently serves as Superintendent at Coeur d’Alene School District in Idaho, which serves 11,000 students.

Cook previously served as Acting Superintendent at Douglas County School District in Colorado, which serves 68,000 students.

From 2014-2018 he served as Assistant Superintendent of Secondary Schools and Deputy Superintendent at Douglas County School District.

Cook has more than 30 years of public education experience including serving as teacher, principal and superintendent. He holds a Doctorate of Education Leadership and Policy Studies.

“I am a leader that leans heavily on courage, integrity, and relationships. I have a proven ability to bring individuals with diverse ideas together around a common purpose and create win-win solutions,” Cook said in his application packet. “I have a heart for all students, and a heart for supporting educators to reach new levels of excellence in their profession through these experiences and relationships.”

Cook’s virtual public meeting will happen Wednesday at 5 p.m.

Find his resume here.

Sisters man dies after crashing into utility pole along HWY 20

A Sisters man died Saturday after crashing his SUV into a utility pole along Highway 20, according to Oregon State Police.

The crash happened around 1:40 p.m. when an eastbound Toyota Highlander driven by 35-year-old Neil Muller went off the road between Bend and Sisters.

Muller suffered fatal injuries and died at the scene, OPS said.

It’s unclear what caused Muller to leave the road.


OHA reports 30 new COVID deaths; weekly cases, hospitalizations set records

COVID-19 has claimed 30 more lives in Oregon, raising the state’s death toll to 1,110 the Oregon Health Authority reported Wednesday.

The OHA reported 1,243 new confirmed and presumptive cases of COVID-19, bringing the state total to 88,287.

The new cases are in the following counties: Baker (3), Benton (11), Clackamas (109), Clatsop (6), Columbia (7), Coos (18), Crook (5), Curry (1), Deschutes (51), Douglas (27), Grant (4), Hood River (16), Jackson (54), Jefferson (22), Josephine (16), Klamath (36), Lake (3), Lane (85), Lincoln (14), Linn (33), Malheur (22), Marion (192), Morrow (3), Multnomah (208), Polk (26), Tillamook (5), Umatilla (30), Union (7), Wasco (9), Washington (163), Yamhill (57).

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

Deschutes County has reported 2,969 cases and 15 deaths; 997 patients have recovered.

Crook County has reported 309 cases and six deaths.

Jefferson County has reported 1,035 cases and 11 deaths.

St. Charles reported Wednesday it had 39 COVID patients; seven are in the ICU and five are on a ventilator.

“While having a low number of COVID-19 patients in the ICU may seem like it’s not too big of a deal, it is important to remember that many patients need ICU care for other reasons like heart attacks, strokes or car accidents,” according to St. Charles.

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

COVID-19 hospitalizations

The number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients across Oregon is 580, that’s 27 more than Tuesday.

There are 132 COVID-19 patients in ICU beds, five more than Tuesday.

The total number of patients in hospital beds may fluctuate between report times.

The numbers do not reflect admissions per day, nor the length of hospital stay.

Staffing limitations are not captured in this data and may further limit bed capacity.

Weekly cases, hospitalizations set new pandemic highs

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

OHA reported 10,355 new daily cases during the week of Monday, Nov. 30 through Sunday, Dec. 6, a 14% increase over the previous week and the seventh consecutive record high weekly case count.

Hospitalizations associated with COVID-19 increased to 494, a 24% increase and an average of 70 per day.

There were 133 reported COVID-19 reported deaths, up from 86 the previous week and an average of 19 per day – the highest since the pandemic began.

People aged 20 to 49 have accounted for 55% of the cases, while people 70 and older have accounted for 76%of the deaths.

Finally, During the week of Nov. 29 to Dec. 5, the number of COVID-19 tests administered to Oregonians increased significantly to 170,964. The percentage of positive tests was 8.1%.