With economic pressure mounting, Benton County was among those in Oregon that took steps to re-open this past week. City and county officials held a remote roundtable Tuesday, May 26, to discuss their progress and concerns in battling the coronavirus pandemic.
The first phase of re-opening has gone smoothly so far, according to Bryan Lee, Benton County emergency services manager. Lee said there have been a few complaints from community members about different businesses, but he said businesses are practicing due diligence to protect employees and the public.
“Everyone’s really been self-policing,” Lee said.
Lee said Benton County is on track for the next phase of re-opening, possibly as early as June 5, and hasn’t hit any major concerning metrics such as an increase in hospitalizations due to COVID-19. Gov. Kate Brown’s office has not issued any guidance or criteria for a second phase of re-opening yet, but recreational travel and gatherings were seen across Oregon during the recent holiday weekend.
Lee added that county emergency management has plans in case of a coronavirus surge as well as additional plans for responding to other disasters, such as wildfires or flooding during the pandemic. Weekly discussions are ongoing with Oregon State University about an expected surge this fall as students return to campus, and how that could affect the re-opening process.
A number of RVs were deployed to the county fairgrounds to isolate coronavirus patient overflow. Support service plans are in the works in case the need to use the RVs arises, according to Dannielle Brown, Benton County Health Department interim co-director.
No new COVID-19 cases were reported over the weekend. Benton County is stable at 53 cumulative cases and five deaths. Charlie Fautin, Health Department interim co-director, said a large cadre of contact tracers has been established. He said the first wave of the outbreak appears to be waning, but additional waves are expected as the virus continues to circulate.
“There’s a lot of concern in the public health world about what will happen in the fall when other cold and flu viruses start circulating and sort of muddy the waters around COVID surveillance,” said Fautin. “We’re trying to get the pieces in place to do early surveillance and monitoring and rapid response when that time comes.”
Benton County Administrator Joe Kerby reported that facilities have been re-opened to the public with limited access. He said the county is starting small and will increase workplace attendance slowly in the coming weeks.
Corvallis opens facilities to the public June 1. City Manager Mark Shepard plans for a soft opening with appointment-only visits for the first two weeks, though some departments will open sooner. The city is also adding 18 new positions, more than half of them in 911 service.
Shepard said most operations haven’t been curtailed because of online options, but the library, pool and the Majestic Theatre would likely be the last places to re-open, coming much later because the large gathering restrictions from the governor’s office.
Adair Village hasn’t been hit too hard by the pandemic fallout, City Administrator Pat Hare said. He noted that developments are continuing, and houses are selling like hotcakes. A dip in constructions costs could signal the right time to develop the downtown area if it continues trending downward. He added that the city is hiring for two more full-time public works positions because of its growth, including a 20-year service contract with Tangent.
Philomath City Manager Chris Workman said his city has re-opened the police department, noting that the bulletproof reception window should keep COVID-19 out, but that city hall and public works remain closed due to a lack of Plexiglas shields to separate staff and the public. Workman said it will continue that way for at least a couple of weeks. He added that staff members are facing limitations as parents grapple with few childcare options in the pandemic.
Albany is also resuming operations June 1. City Manager Peter Troedsson said his city has been open the whole time under modified conditions. Though technically a return to “normal,” social distancing measures mean noticeable changes such as protective shields and removing furniture from city hall. Groups that were suspended are expected to resume, though a hybrid of online and in-person meetings is likely. Libraries and pools will remain closed.
Troedsson said transient lodging taxes have taken a precipitous dive for Albany and that will require a budget adjustment. Parks and recreation revenue have also taken a hit with the cancellations of all summer events. He said while adjusting this year is not a problem, the next biennial budget process is not looking good.
Monroe officials did not attend the meeting. Hare said he’s had discussions with the mayor and it appears the entire city council is not running for re-election, so hiring a city manager is on hold until January. The position reportedly has been open for two months.
By Cody Mann