Colm Willis

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UPDATE — 27 March 2020:  There are now 83 cases of coronavirus in Marion County and three people have died. Please continue to pray for all of the victims of this disease as well as our medical teams and first responders.

As you can imagine, many people have been interested in Marion County's response to this crisis. I gave two interviews this week. You can listen to them by clicking the buttons below.

Santiam Local
Willamette Wake Up

The community response to this crisis in Marion County has been amazing. This week Salem Hospital asked for help making 10,000 masks for its front line nurses and doctors. They asked people to take home kits and sew the masks at home. Although distribution was scheduled for two days, yesterday all of the kits were gone within minutes. You can read about it here. Below is the line of cars waiting to pick up a kit.

Lined-up cars waiting for sewing kits

If you or anyone you know is showing symptoms of coronavirus they can schedule an appointment at a Salem Health respiratory clinic by calling 503-814-0099. This is the best way to get assessed if you are sick.

Today, the president signed into law a $2 trillion stimulus package to respond to the economic destruction created by the stay at home orders and forced business closures across the country. Included in this legislation will be cash payments of $1,200 per adult and $500 per child. This immediate cash infusion will cushion the blow so many received when states issued stay at home orders. You can read more about the details of the bill here.

Additionally, Oregon the Department of Revenue announced that the deadline for filing your Oregon personal income taxes has been moved back to July 15, 2020 to match the federal deadline.

The stay at home order has hurt a number of small businesses. It was done to save our hospitals. If our hospitals were to fail, not only coronavirus victims but other life threatening diseases would cause even more death as well. President Trump announced today that the federal government signed a deal with General Motors to make 100,000 ventilators in 100 days. The U.S. is ramping up production to catch up to the spread of coronavirus. I am optimistic that our hospitals will survive the surge we are seeing. You can see an OHA model here.

However, businesses need to know that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. That is why the President has said he wants people back to work by Easter. Now whether it is Easter or sometime in may, once our hospitals weather, the initial surge people will have to be able to go back to work, but how that work is conducted may be permanently changed so long as this virus remains a threat.

Here at the county we are working on our own economic recovery response to this crisis. I expect to give you an update, once our plan is complete. I pray that you and your family are safe during this time.


UPDATE — 23 March 2020:  We have been working around the clock and this weekend was no different. We are now up to 30 people from Marion county who have tested positive for coronavirus and on Friday we suffered our first death due to the disease. On Saturday we held an emergency board meeting to close county offices to the public. This was one of the hardest decisions I have had to make as a commissioner. I believe that our fundamental job is to serve the people of Marion County. Any limitation to our ability to do that troubles me deeply. But I also believe that this order furthers that goal. I want to stress that we will continue to provide county services, but they will be by appointment or online or by phone. You can watch our emergency meeting below.

MC Board Emergency mtg
Emergency Meeting

One of the things that influenced this decision was a letter from the CEO of Salem Hospital Cheryl Wolfe.  In her letter she outlines the threat that is facing our community as a result of this coronavirus. You can read it here.  The bottom line is that if we do nothing, more of our citizens will die.

Governor Exec Order

On Sunday, I joined a call with the Governor where she explained her new executive order that she released today. In her order she announced the closure of the following businesses:

Amusement parks; aquariums; arcades; art galleries; barbershops and hair salons; bowling alleys; cosmetic stores; dance studios; esthetician practices; fraternal organization facilities; furniture stores; gyms and fitness studios (including climbing gyms); hookah bars; indoor and outdoor malls; indoor party places (including jumping gyms and laser tag); jewelry shops and boutiques (unless they provide goods and services exclusively through pick-up or delivery); medical spas, facial spas, day spas, and non-medical massage therapy services; museums; nail and tanning salons; non-tribal card rooms; skating rinks; senior activity centers; ski resorts; social and private clubs; tatoo/piercing parlors; tennis clubs; theaters; yoga studios; and youth clubs.

This is quite a list and unfortunately is going to hurt a number of businesses in our community. The commissioners and I are working hard with our economic development department to find a way to soften the blow to so many of our citizens. If you own a business and need help, one of the first things you can do is contact Danielle Gonzalez in Marion County's Economic Development office. Her email is dgonzalez@co.marion.or.us. She is helping people navigate the Small Business Administration loan process as well as other resources in the community.

As always if there is any way that I can help you during this time please let me know.


UPDATE — 21 March 2020:  Yesterday the Governor announced an upcoming stay-at-home order. This means that all nonessential travel will likely be prohibited. The state will clarify this further on Monday. But trips to get food at the grocery store and to get medical care will likely still be allowed. The reason for this order is that our area hospitals are expecting to be overwhelmed with coronavirus cases in the coming weeks. The Governor hopes that this order will slow down the virus so that the hospitals can catch up. Because of this crisis it has become impossible for hospitals to order the masks and gowns that they need. When I visited Salem Hospital yesterday off-duty employees were making gowns and face guards that meet regulatory requirements because the hospital can still get the raw materials.

Making protective gear Computer center

In anticipation of the governor's order, on Wednesday, we made the decision to institute a telecommuting policy so that those employees in Marion County who can work from home can do so. Many of the functions of the county are essential functions of civil society. We need our Sheriff's deputies to keep the peace. Our public health workers are at the front lines of identifying the spread of this virus and helping people to quarantine to slow the spread. But everyone who can work from home should. We asked every department to finalize a list of essential personnel by yesterday at 5pm. You can see our discussion of this policy below at the 42nd minute:

MC Board mtg
Telecommuting policy discussion

The number of cases of coronavirus in Marion County is accelerating rapidly. We now have 17 people who have tested positive. This is up from 3 at the beginning of this week. Yesterday the first Marion County resident died of coronavirus. You can read our statement here. Please keep the family in your prayers.

I anticipate that this number will continue to climb. Last time I told you about our state and federal governments' failure to secure enough tests to contain the virus. You can read more about that here and here. Fortunately, many private companies are filling the gap and providing much needed tests to our community.

However, now we are moving into a more critical stage for our health care system where more of our hospital beds will be called into service to treat victims of this deadly virus. And although we do not have enough hospital beds to manage a large demand, we do have more intensive care (ICU) unit beds per capita than most other countries around the world. Because of our private insurance-based model of health care, we have between 20-32 ICU beds per 100,000 people in America compared with less than half that number in Canada, Japan or England. This means that we have more resources available for the sickest people who will be suffering from this virus than in other parts of the world.

Touring fairground field shelterr Field shelter

Still, it may not be enough. We are going to need to increase our bed capacity here in Oregon to manage the surge in cases. The National Guard just rolled out a 250-bed field shelter on the Oregon State Fairgrounds. Yesterday I took a tour with volunteers from Marion County's medical reserve corps who will be volunteering at the new shelter. You can hear the commander talking about the facility by clicking on the image below.

M*A*S*H unit
Field shelter

Finally, yesterday the federal government recognized the state of Oregon as a disaster area due to coronavirus. This means that if you own a business that has suffered due to coronavirus you are eligible to apply for a SBA disaster loan. You can find the application here. If you need any help with this process please let me know.


UPDATE — 18 March 2020:  I wanted to send you an update on the coronavirus in Marion County. The situation has escalated rapidly in just two days. There are now 75 people who have tested positive in Oregon and 3 people have died of the virus. Our state and federal government have imposed serious social distancing rules that already are having an effect on our economy.

  • 1,554 people in Oregon have been tested for the virus, about 1/3 of these are awaiting results
  • 75 people have tested positive,
  • There are now 8 cases of coronavirus in Marion County
  • The governor has shut down all restaurants and bars and limited gatherings to no more than 10 people [Emphasis added]
  • All schools are closed until at least April 28

The closing of schools and restaurants and the limiting of public gatherings is evidence that our health system has failed. The reason for these measures is because our government does not know how widespread the disease is and the concern is that our health system does not have the capacity to treat a mass outbreak.

Everyone is looking at Italy right now where over 30,000 people have tested positive and over 2,500 have died in the space of 2 months. Their hospitals are literally leaving people lying in the hallways and are triaging respirators for those who are most likely to survive. Their front line medical workers are becoming sick and in some cases dying.

In contrast, South Korea conducted mass testing as soon as this disease surfaced (over 270,000 tests) and they were able to effectively identify and quarantine those who had coronavirus in their country (read about it here). As a result they have not had to shut down their day to day life, and have been able to manage the disease.

Unfortunately, we look a lot more like Italy than South Korea. The Oregon Health Authority is testing 80 people a day compared with 15,000 per day that South Korea is able to test. Although South Korea is 10 times larger than Oregon, on a per capita basis that is still more than 15 times our testing capacity. 

Additionally, the social distancing measures recommended by the state and federal government are hurting people in our community. There are some people who can work from home, but there are many who cannot.  Missing a paycheck is a devastating event for many in our community.

I want you to know that our public health team is working around the clock to trace outbreaks of this disease and identify and help quarantine individuals who are infected.

I also want you to know that I am on calls every day with the state and federal government asking them to help our small business owners and people who have lost their jobs because of these new social distancing rules. (If you need help please contact me)

I will do everything in my power to fight for the people of Marion County during this time.


17 March 2020

Friends,

Today the Marion County Board of Commissioners declared a state of emergency in Marion County due to the coronavirus (Covid-19) outbreak. You can watch it here:

MC Board mtg
Declaration of Emergency

Although we have not yet seen a large number of deaths in Oregon due to the virus, the reason that we have declared an emergency is because it has become clear that our entire health system both at the state and federal levels is inadequately prepared for a widespread pandemic of a virus like this with no known vaccine. It has also become clear that coronavirus has spread throughout our community.

Neither the state nor the federal government nor our local health care providers has enough test kits to provide community-wide testing. Additionally, none of our partners has enough personal protective equipment (masks and gloves) to adequately protect our first responders and health care workers if hundreds of people in our community need hospitalization at the same time.

That is why it is so important that we limit our interactions and engage in social distancing to slow the transmission of this disease so that our hospitals are not overwhelmed.

I was on the phone with the governor last night and I told her how badly our hospitals need medical equipment. She told me that the federal government sent 40,000 masks last Friday and has promised another 60,000 to the state.  This help is desperately needed.

Our government has limited gatherings of people and closed schools for several weeks. The social distancing measures are being used to slow the spread of the disease while our health care system tries to catch up.

People who are considered especially high risk for the disease include adults 60 and older, or anyone with a serious health condition. I am very concerned for the safety of our citizens in these groups. Let's work together to look out for each other.

You can read more here and here.

Here are some facts:

  • As of Sunday there were 39 cases of coronavirus in the state of Oregon; 2 cases in Marion County
  • The state has tested 367 people
  • 1 person has died of coronavirus in the state of Oregon
  • Mass gatherings of more than 250 people have been prohibited, it may soon be limited to gatherings of 50  UPDATE:  At her press conference that occurred after distribution of this newsletter, the governor announced that gatherings will be limited to no more than 25 people
  • Public schools have closed for at least two weeks, possibly as many as six weeks
  • Prisons have stopped visits to adults in custody
  • Willamette University moved all of its classes online

I ask that you stay home as much as possible and please pray for our community during this time.

It is an honor to serve you as your county commissioner.

God bless,

Colm

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