Vaccinations, Wildfires and Redistricting – A Brief Update
Every single day I am grateful to live in and represent our special part of Oregon.
I know sometimes it is hard to remember how special it is here, when the roads are clogged with visitors, the sound of sirens in the distance is constant, you have to wait an hour for dinner with friends at a local restaurant, and we struggle with constantly changing rules to address a disease that itself is constantly changing. We’re limiting water use in response to a serious drought. We’re limiting campfires and backyard burns as a caution to over-dry conditions as we approach the anniversary of devastating local fires. Businesses can’t find employees while employees can’t find housing. And many visitors are here because it is uncomfortably and even dangerously hot in the valley.
And still, one good sunset, beach walk, hour in the garden or glass of wine on the deck with friends reminds us of all the good things we have to be grateful for.
How fortunate we really are came to me in stark terms this week when I read a newsletter from a republican colleague representing Jackson and Josephine Counties and talking about the effects of the COVID surge:
The news is grim: Our hospital system is at capacity. Patients suffering strokes and heart attacks or needing surgery for cancer cannot be treated because resources and medical staff are stretched too thin. As of today, 400 necessary surgeries have had to be rescheduled, and that number will only grow. Patients are being turned away and hospital executives verified that patients are on gurneys in the hallways waiting for beds. This obviously has serious implications for all members of our community.
Our doctors expect the peak of this outbreak to occur around the beginning of September, which means we will need additional support for several months. The governor today deployed 500 National Guard personnel to assist hospitals. While these guardsmen will play a vital role in testing and manning the county’s Covid-19 hotline, they are not medical personnel.
What is the difference between our coastal communities filled with visitors, and those southern counties along the I-5 corridor? Across our district, the vaccination level among adults exceeds 70%. Josephine County, by contrast, is at 50%.
I strongly support vaccinations as the best tool to address the pandemic. But I also believe vaccinating is a personal choice and oppose general mandates. Clearly, choosing not to vaccinate entails potential consequences to yourself, your family, and your community. So I ask people to take that choice very seriously.
Rather than watch the number of positive case counts, I’m monitoring hospitalizations, ventilator use, and fatalities. Deaths provide only a tiny snapshot of what is happening. But such information shows the life-and-death differences that widespread vaccinations make in a community. Health authority data shows that those who have not been immunized account for the vast majority of cases, hospitalizations and deaths,.
I’m hopeful that formal approval of the vaccine options will give people more confidence to take them. I hope to see vaccines for children under 12 soon. And I look forward to vaccine “booster” shots to offset our vulnerability to variants. But the sad reality is that someone starting the vaccination regimen today will not be yet protected when the next COVID surge is expected to peak in early September.
My priority is to see our schools open, our businesses open, and our social gatherings open. Higher levels of vaccinations will make that more likely and the inconvenience of wearing a mask will make it safer. But as I said, the disease continues to change and so must our response. That response must be practical, meaningful, and scientifically valid.
Vaccines save lives – of those who are vaccinated and those who cannot yet receive them. Masks used in areas of high-transmission with low vaccination rates also helps reduce the spread. That’s a key concern as children under 12 remain ineligible for the vaccine.
I hoped, as did we all, that we wouldn’t be back here. It hurts to see so many Oregonians struggling, but I know that if we continue to work hard and work together, we’ll be able to beat this pandemic for good.
For another perspective on this difficult subject, see “A tale of two Oregons”.
Additionally, I found this information interesting in understanding the thoughts of those waiting on a vaccine decision and those who definitely will not vaccinate:
Last week I wrote in detail about the redistricting process. I reported that hearings had been scheduled to allow you to voice your suggestions and concerns. And I noted with disappointment that no hearings were scheduled in southern, eastern, or coastal Oregon.
Our concerns have been heard! I’m pleased to announce that three more hearings have been scheduled with one in the center of our own district. Again, you can comment in person, remotely by computer, or in writing. And you can schedule testimony at any hearing if the local one is not convenient.
The 2020 US Census data has now been officially delivered to Oregon. Population gains in central Oregon, the Portland metro region, and the Willamette Valley drove Oregon’s growth over the last decade. Lincoln County is up 9.5%, Tillamook 8.5%, and Yamhill 8.6%. By contrast, Deschutes grew 25.7%. More details and an interactive map can be found here.
To view this information and to participate in the process, visit the state’s website on redistricting here.
Legislators received a wildfire briefing on Tuesday. There was good news and bad news. All the big fires are now contained, but those leading our firefighting efforts remain concerned.
For now, things seem stable, but the ongoing hot temperatures and dry conditions are extremely dangerous. Lightning strikes have started a number of new fires in various parts of the state in the last few days. Firefighters are working hard to contain them.
Even at the coast, we see red skies on the eastern horizon. Unfortunately, there are now air quality advisories issued all over the state. They are in the 200+ “Stay Indoors” range in Medford, Roseburg, Grants Pass, Shady Cove, Springfield, and Eugene.
My in-district schedule was scrambled last week when I was called for jury duty and a five-day criminal trial. I didn’t ask to be excused. Jury service is inconvenient for everyone, but is a civic responsibility and a critical part of our judicial system. I was honored to be a member of a thoughtful group called on to make difficult decisions in an emotional case.
The week before, I dropped in on National Night Out in both Toledo and Newport. These great programs promote police-community partnerships, volunteer and civic organizations, first responders, and safe neighborhoods in a community-building effort.
I visited the Nestucca Valley Early Learning Center and joined the South Tillamook Chamber for lunch at the newly renovated Nestucca Valley Elementary School. The improvements and new spaces are remarkable and will prove a great resource for students and the larger community as well.
I also toured the Echo Mountain Fire Recovery efforts with staff from our congressional delegation and county leaders. The one-year anniversary of the Labor Day Fires is approaching and to support recovery and resiliency, the Lincoln County Long-Term Recovery Group is inviting the community to an event to share and reflect on local experiences during the Echo Mountain Complex Fire last September. Join us August 28th from 11-2 at the Lincoln City Cultural Center.
I’ve spoken before about the Salmon River Grange where a group of tireless volunteers have turned the facility into a general store, a support network and a hub to link fire survivors to additional resources.
Friday I spoke briefly at the opening night presentation of “Reserve Inspiration” – a celebration of our Oregon Marine Reserves. There are five reserves off our coastline dedicated to conservation and scientific research. Two are in our district and a third within sight a few miles south.
This evening I plan to meet with the Sheridan City Council to discuss the recent legislative session and investments brought back to Yamhill County to support career and technical education. Later in the week I’ll join Senator Merkley visiting the Big Creek Dams in Newport and discuss the critical need to find more funding to replace these seismically vulnerable water systems.
And finally, it’s a good time to start planning for SOLVE’s annual Beach and Riverside Cleanup, happening on September 25. Join hundreds of Oregonians across the state, protecting and restoring our natural habitats, coast, and neighborhoods through litter cleanup and restoration work. Water is increasingly becoming one of Oregon’s most precious resources. By joining the Beach and Riverside Cleanup, you send a clear signal that you are part of the solution to keep our waterways clean and free of debris. Click here to browse a list of projects, learn more, and sign up.
As always, in the coming weeks I’ll be out and about throughout our sprawling district. I hope to see you there along the way.
Representative David Gomberg