CitySpeak Recap: Local Leaders Respond to Pandemic

  In case you missed it, here’s a recap of last night’s CitySpeak event, a livestream Q&A with local leaders focusing on city and county responses to the COVID-19 pandemic.  

Panelists for the virtually moderated discussion included Mayor Biff Traber, County Commissioner Xan Augerot, Health Department Co-Directors Danielle Brown and Charlie Fautin, and Fire Chief Ken McCarthy, who is also on the leadership team for the Benton County Emergency Operations Center.  

Moderating the event were Advocate Editor Stevie Beisswanger and Publisher Steve Schultz.  

At Current Glance 

In their opening remarks, panelists spoke to the roles they’ve played in responding to the public health emergency so far, and how these efforts are expected to evolve in the coming weeks. 

Mayor Traber praised the community for embracing social distancing in order to flatten the curve, while noting that there are still PPE demands needing to be met, and that he expects to see an updated set of guidelines from Gov. Brown’s office in the coming days.  

Commissioner Augerot outlined how the city of Corvallis and Benton County have worked well together as they consolidate their response efforts through the Joint Information Center and Emergency Operations Center. Co-Director Brown seconded this assessment, saying she hopes to see these relationships built upon moving forward.  

Noting the county’s 27 confirmed cases, Co-Director Fautin, who supervises the county’s communicable disease investigation unit, cautiously praised the community’s efforts to avoid a surge so far. He went on to warn against the prospect of irresponsibly re-congregating, saying this would be akin to cutting the cord of a parachute at 2,000 feet above the ground, because of how much it has slowed your fall thus far.  

Fire Chief McCarthy described the efforts he led to bolster his department’s ability to respond to worst-case scenario projections, and then discussed an upcoming shift in focus from emergency response to economic recovery at the municipal level. 


Help for the Unhoused 

Fielding the first audience question about what specific steps have been taken to help the city’s at-risk unhoused population, Mayor Traber admitted that the response has been slow-moving and perhaps “not enough.”  

Commissioner Augerot mentioned that the county is beginning to contribute funds to a program that would offer access to hotel/motel rooms, adding that there is already a program in place setting aside rooms for diagnosed and/or recovering individuals.  

Citing sparse resources and coding constraints, Brown and McCarthy characterized some of the hurdles faced in their efforts to scale up access to hand-washing stations and porta-potties. 


Help for Renters and Home Owners 

Responding to a second question about plans for addressing the needs of those who could lose their homes or apartments due to the pandemic’s economic impact, Mayor Traber made assurances that this issue will be a focal point for the Emergency Operations Committee as it begins to shift its attention toward economic recovery in the coming weeks.  

This will involve adjusting to newly released HUD guidelines in order to see what funds will become available for rental assistance programs at the federal and state levels. Commissioner Augerot added that while she expects the stimulus checks will help mitigate this problem, the amount only covers about a month’s rent in the local market.   


Opening the Economy 

A third question involved the prospect of opening up the economy. Commissioner Augerot responded by describing Corvallis as a “middle of the road” player — akin to neither Portland nor Curry or Lake County in terms of population density. She suggested that with the presence of large institutions like OSU and HP, the community needs to be cautious about reopening — being sure to meet Gov. Brown’s guidelines regarding testing capacity, access to PPE, and contact tracing.  

Affirming these assertions, Fautin added that the question ought not to be framed as when to “open up,” but how to open up.  

By way of signing off, Mayor Traber praised the other panelists and their teams for the contributions they’ve made toward response efforts at the city and county levels. He then thanked the community for embracing the stay-at-home order thus far, offering his opinion that we will begin to see negative impacts in the coming weeks from other communities that might be opening up their economies too quickly.  

The Corvallis Advocate thanks all of our sponsors, viewers, panelists, and supporters who made this first ever virtual CitySpeak possible. If you’d like to see more events like these, please consider subscribing or donating to our cause – monthly subscriptions range from $5-15. 


By JD Brookbank 

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