Colm Willis

Newsletter header

UPDATE — 21 August 2020:  A little while ago I told you about how the governor kept Marion County on a watch list, even though we didn't meet the criteria to be there. Thank you if you shared my message. Because, when we brought this to her attention, the Governor removed Marion County from her list.

This does not mean that Marion County is out of the woods when it comes to our response to COVID-19, but it is a recognition that we have a good public health team here made up of hard working individuals who are doing a great job.

I think it also supports the fact that we need to tailor our response to this disease and not use blanket knee-jerk policies that harm our community.

Pie chart

As you can see from the chart above, the vast majority of our cases come from someone living in a person's home, close contact social events, state corrections institutions (prisons), or long-term care facilities and nursing homes. A small percentage of our cases come from other types of facility outbreaks, like restaurants, stores or churches. In fact less than 1% of our cases come from these often-cited locations.

As a result, we need to be focusing our efforts on quarantining people in prisons, nursing homes, or in our own homes when they show symptoms of COVID. That will make the biggest impact in slowing down this disease. Discussions about shutting down restaurants or churches does not make much sense given the data.

We also need to be more creative about reopening schools this fall. Instead of a blanket ban on in-person schooling based on metrics that, according to the governor and the Oregon Health Authority, we may not be able to achieve until April, we should be more creative.

I think it probably would be a mistake to have over 1,000 students in one school building, but there are a lot of empty churches, theaters, and conference centers right now. We should have a discussion about splitting up schools by grade or class and ensuring that no more than 100 students go to any one building. I am certain that with a little effort we could maintain small group sizes and find a way to ensure safe in-person schooling this fall.

Finally, we did have a meeting with OHA and DHS about how they are regulating long term care facilities in Marion County. This continues to be an area of concern for me. Even though only 10% of our cases are in long term care facilities, over 60% of our deaths are now attributed to these facilities. I recently learned that in one outbreak at a long-term care facility in Marion County 10 staff members out of 24 went to work with COVID symptoms. That is unacceptable. I want to find a way to ensure that people who work at these facilities are not incentivized to go to work if they are sick. Such behavior endangers the lives of our most vulnerable citizens.

As always please let me know if I can help you in any way.

UPDATE — 10 August 2020:  You may have heard recently that the Governor added Marion County to her COVID-19 watch list. This was based on the Oregon Health Authority's conclusion that we had too many cases in Marion County that could not be traced to a source. Unfortunately, OHA came to this conclusion without all of the relevant information. After our epidemiologists finish a case investigation they upload information into a statewide database that OHA manages. However, because OHA changed its criteria without advance notice to our team, not all of the case information for Marion County was uploaded into the statewide system. Once all of our information was uploaded it turned out that Marion County did not meet the criteria to be included in the Governor's watch list. This was brought to the attention of the Governor, but she decided to keep Marion County on the watch list, "out of an abundance of caution." Frankly, this is ridiculous.

It does not inspire confidence for the Governor to refuse to follow her own criteria. Based on the Governor's own metrics, Marion County does not qualify for the watch list. She needs to remove our county from her list immediately. On a call on Friday I asked her to remove Marion County from her list, and today the Marion County Board of Commissioners sent her the following letter. Marion County's inclusion on this list is causing unnecessary confusion and fear among the citizens of our county.

Letter to governor

I am also worried about the one size fits all approach to school reopening that the Governor has announced. The criteria that she has set forth will make it nearly impossible for either public or private schools in Marion County to reopen for in person instruction this fall. I have young kids at home and I can tell you this is a hardship for many of our families.

Here in Marion County we are in phase 2 of the Governor's reopening criteria. This means that restaurants, bars, churches and other venues can have 100 people indoors and 250 outdoors so long as everyone wears masks and maintains social distancing. This is the case even with the current COVID caseload that we are seeing. And it makes sense, because according to our data, very few of our cases have originated in restaurants, bars, churches, or grocery stores. But it makes no sense to allow 100 people in Home Depot, Walmart or at a bar but not to allow 100 people to maintain social distance in a school.

I think we should apply the same gathering criteria to schools that we apply to other places of work and play. Limiting schools to 100 people indoors and 250 people outdoors seems reasonable to me. But why are we making it harder for schools to open than bars?

Throughout this pandemic, my first priority has been the health and safety of the people of Marion County. Right now only 10% of our cases in Marion County are in nursing homes or long term care facilities, but this population constitutes over half of all of our COVID-related deaths. This is where need need to focus our efforts.

Recently, the American Academy of Pediatrics issued guidance saying that school districts should try to get students back to in person learning for their health. Schools provide a host of benefits for our kids. Keeping our kids out of school this fall will not make them healthier, but sicker. We need to do what is right for the health of our whole community including our kids.

As always, don't hesitate to reach out to me if you need anything.

UPDATE — 28 July 2020:  It has been a few weeks since I gave you an update. I apologize for the delay. A couple of weeks ago my wife and I welcomed a new daughter into our home. It has been a wonderful time of joy for our family.

Willis newborn

Isn't she beautiful!

But the work continues for our citizens here in Marion County. Today the Salem Police Chief announced that Salem will not be providing school resource officers to the Salem-Keizer School District for the upcoming school year. I find this very disappointing. School resource officers are vitally important to our schools to keep our kids safe. Marion County's Sheriff's Office provides a school resource officer at two middle schools in the Salem-Keizer district. We will continue to provide this service as long as the district is open to it.

Additionally, we recently received data showing that most of our deaths due to COVID-19 here in Marion County have taken place in long term care facilities and nursing homes. We have requested a call with the state agencies that regulate these facilities, DHS and OHA, to get more details about how they are ensuring the safety of our seniors. Ensuring the safety of our seniors in long term care facilities is a top priority of mine.

Charting Wuhan deaths

We are also focused on reviewing safety plans for our schools that are trying to open this fall. The task of reviewing nearly 200 plans has fallen to the local public health authority. Since that is our jurisdiction we have been trying to help schools open in a way that keeps kids and teachers safe, and gets our kids the education they deserve. Today the governor announced that schools will not be allowed to open unless she sees certain COVID metrics in each county. You can read more about it here.. The reality is that our COVID numbers in Marion County have been pretty consistent throughout this pandemic. I hope I am wrong, but based on what I read today, I think it is unlikely that the governor will allow schools in Marion County to open in the fall.

I will send you an update on this as soon as I receive more information.

UPDATE — 3 July 2020:  Happy 4th of July!

This week we celebrate the 244th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence. Every year those first words always stir something in my soul.

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."

America today is the world's longest standing free republic where over 325 million people live in freedom.  Every man and woman who is at least 18 years of age can vote in every election. A republic with constitutional rights and suffrage this universal has never before existed in human history. It is something for which to be grateful.

I have never felt so ready to celebrate our Independence Day. It seems like between the COVID-19 pandemic and the recent unrest in cities across our nation, it is a great time for us to come together and remember the great gift of this country that unites us.

U.S. sunrise

Most of my time this past week has been focused on our continuing COVID-19 response. Marion County was hit hard by this disease early and as a result we had to work overtime to get our systems in place to mitigate its impact in our community. But that early work is now paying off. While other communities in Oregon have seen huge spikes in COVID cases, our case numbers, while up a little bit, are still in line with what we have seen historically. At one point we had the highest number of cases per capita in the state but not any longer. Today, our case rate is much lower. Our management of this disease in our community is a testament to the contact tracing and quarantine work of our county health department.

I am still concerned about the safety of our residents living in long-term care and nursing homes in our community. These folks are especially vulnerable to this disease. These facilities are regulated by the governor under DHS. I have brought this issue up with the Governor's office and I hope that DHS will bring more effort to bear in ensuring the safety of our residents in these facilities. You can see one of my meetings with the Governor below.

Laptop Zoom Mtg

This weekend, in a special way I pray that you and your loved ones are able to rest and celebrate our great country.

UPDATE — 18 June 2020:  As you probably have heard, last week the governor denied our application to enter into phase 2 of her reopening plan. This decision was largely based on circumstances happening outside of Marion County, specifically in the Portland Metro Area. She put a state-wide pause on all phased reopening. Yesterday, we received a letter from the Governor letting us know that she has changed her decision and we will be entering phase 2, this Friday, June 19. This is wonderful news for our community.

Phase 2 letter

This result is a testament to all of the hard work that our team and community partners have done to control the spread of COVID-19 in our community.

The Governor also announced that she will be requiring everyone to wear face masks in indoor public spaces.  We are trying to get clarity about what kinds of facilities this proposed rule applies to and how it will be enforced. I will let you know as soon as I know more.

Separately, the governor announced a special session for June 24th to address the impact of coronavirus and police reforms. First this is welcome news that our duly elected legislature will make laws again, instead of new laws simply being issued by fiat through executive orders. I have come to realize how important the process of legislating truly is.

Second, I hope that the legislature does not overreach when it comes to policing in Oregon. I think all of us can do better in rooting out racism from our society, all of us can help our police officers improve their work in our communities, but recent calls to abolish the police are crazy!

When you or I are in desperate need and dial 911, we better hope that we are paying our police officers to respond!

You can read more about the movement to abolish the police here.

This is another area where it is clear that Marion County is not, and will never be like Portland.

UPDATE — 5 June 2020:  First I want start off by saying I hope you and your loved ones had a wonderful memorial day last week. Every year I am so grateful for those who have given their lives for our freedom. They have given us so much.

There has been plenty of activity since that long weekend. One of the most important things we did since then, is meet as a budget committee and vote to approve the budget for the upcoming 2020-2021 year. As a result of COVID we kept our budget lean and limited programs and expenses that we did not think we could sustain. As a result our budget is almost $10 million smaller this year than last year, but we believe this will ensure the long-term financial security of our county.

Marion County budget

We also sent a letter to the Governor today requesting that Marion County enter phase 2 of reopening on Friday, June 12. Under phase 2, gathering size will increase to 50 indoors and 100 outdoors with an exception for special venues like churches which will be allowed to have gatherings of up to 250 so long as social distancing can be maintained. Over the last few weeks since we began to reopen we have seen our number of COVID cases continue to decline and our capacity increase. I am hopeful the Governor will approve our request.

Finally, I am sure that you have seen or heard by now of the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota while in the custody of four police officers. One of the officers kneeled on Mr. Floyd's neck for several minutes. On the videos that have circulated Mr. Floyd could clearly be heard saying that he couldn't breathe and was in pain. The other three officers stood nearby but did not intervene.

We have had multiple nights of protest in Salem as a result of this incident, including some rioting. Although the majority of protesters have demonstrated peacefully, several people have been arrested for criminal behavior.

I want you to know that the Sleeper Hold, which involves pressing on the carotid artery in the neck, was banned as a law enforcement technique in Oregon in the 1980s because of the serious risk of injury or death. None of the police agencies in Marion County, including the Sheriff's Office train this technique.

Additionally, I want you to know that all of our Sheriff's deputies are trained to intervene if a fellow deputy is acting improperly or illegally. Our Sheriff has instructed his command staff to review this duty to intervene will all divisions again, as we have brought on a number of new deputies. This duty to intervene when we see someone acting improperly or illegally against one of our fellow citizens is a duty that we all share.

I also want you to know that we are blessed here in Marion County with a good and dedicated police force in our Sheriff's office and all of our city police agencies. For our Sheriff the work of building trust with the people of Marion County is of utmost importance for him and his whole staff. They work hard to build trust with every person in our community regardless of their gender, race, national origin, or religion. Discrimination in any form is anathema to all of us in Marion County. Even though this incident took place nearly 2,000 miles away it has had an impact here as well.

I know that coming on the heals of the COVID-19 pandemic, this incident and the recent unrest has affected all of us. Please know that you continue to be in my prayers.

UPDATE — 20 May 2020:  Last week I let you know that the governor had denied our application to enter phase one of a limited reopening of Marion County. I am happy to report that today she made a different decision.

On Monday, the Marion County Board of Commissioners sent a letter to the governor asking her to revisit the analysis OHA used to justify its denial of Marion County's application. As you can see in the letter, despite OHA's statements last week, hospital admissions in Marion County have gone down not up.

Letter to governor

Today we heard that the Governor has approved our application and will allow Marion County to begin a phase one limited opening this Friday May 22nd. This is a big relief for so many of the people in Marion County who have suffered so much because of this virus. The hairdressers, family owned restaurants, and other personal service businesses and employees who have not had a paycheck in months. I am hopeful that this means many of our small businesses will be able to begin to rebuild their lives.

I am also incredibly proud of our public health team at Marion County. Despite having a much more vulnerable population than most of the state, they have gone above and beyond since day one. Marion County's Health Department was the first to translate the social distancing guidelines into multiple languages. Marion County started adding contact tracers well before the state made it a priority. And we were the first county in the state to release geographic and demographic information. In addition our health department has delivered over 100,000 masks, gloves, face shields, and gowns to hospitals, first responders and vulnerable populations. We have also greatly increased our testing capacity and have provided additional tests to vulnerable populations. You can see the results below.

In all, it has been a remarkable effort from our local public health team here in Marion County. Because of their work, I am confident that we will enter phase one of our limited reopening safely.

Also earlier in the week, a state judge ruled that the Governor's orders exceeded her authority and required that she convene the state legislature to keep them in force. Within a few hours the Governor had appealed her decision and the Oregon Supreme Court agreed to take the case on appeal. We now are awaiting the outcome of that decision as well.

Thank you so much for your support for our community during this difficult time.

UPDATE — 18 May 2020:  Yesterday the Governor announced that all churches, retail stores and parks statewide could reopen. I am glad for this news. This means that many of our businesses can begin to get back to work in limited manner, while maintaining all of our safety.

However this happy news is tempered by the fact that the Governor decided not to allow personal services such as salons and barbershops, gyms or restaurants to open in Marion and Polk counties. She denied our application to enter what she calls "Phase 1" while approving 31 other counties applications. This is particularly harmful to our small businesses here in Marion County. My heart goes out to them. Many of our people have not received a paycheck in over 2 months. The governor's staff said that this decision was because the number of hospital admissions in Marion County had increased over a two week period but it is very hard for me to find data that supports this assertion. At most, it was statistically flat, depending on the period that one uses. Below you can see number of coronavirus patients in Salem Hospital over time. Obviously the trend line is down. This is true for all of our area hospitals.

Salem Hospital Disease Trend

When we pressed Dean Sidelinger, chief epidemiologist for the state of Oregon, his explanation was weak. He said that they did not do a statistical analysis because the numbers were too small and he offered contradictory explanations of the analysis they used to come to their conclusion.

One day this week there were 5 patients with the coronavirus in Salem Hospital which currently has emergency capacity for over 700 patients and in normal times has capacity for 500 patients. These are very small numbers.

To be clear, the coronavirus is a serious disease and we should continue to take it seriously. Our public health team has worked around the clock to combat this virus in our community. But the Governor's decision in this instance was wrong. It did nothing to improve the public health of the people of Oregon, it simply pushed more of our people in Marion County closer to poverty.

This is an evolving situation, I will update you as more information becomes available.

UPDATE — 11 May 2020:  Happy Mother's Day! Thank you to all the mothers in Marion County for the wonderful and often quiet work they do for all of us.

Last week the Marion County Board of Commissioners submitted an application for a limited phase one reopening with Governor Kate Brown. You can read our application here. This decision was made after consultation with our three hospital systems and our own public health officials. One of the questions that we get often is about the number of cases in Marion County. It is true that because we have more vulnerable populations we have had more cases of the coronavirus in Marion County than other counties in Oregon. However, even in Marion County the number of hospitalizations due to this disease is drastically down. At its peak we had over 40 patients with coronavirus in Salem Hospital.  As of today we have only 6. More importantly, our area hospitals' capacity to provide the highest level of care needed to patients of the coronavirus has expanded significantly. We are ready to meet any new demand on our health care system due to this disease. I spoke about this and our county's response on the radio last week. You can listen to the interview below.

Listen Now

Now we are waiting for a response from the governor. If she approves our request, we will enter phase one on May 15th. If not, it could be longer. We have also heard from the governor's office that they are considering allowing a reopening of all retail statewide beginning on May 15th. We should learn more about that in the coming days. I want you to know that we have been advocating for our families and small businesses throughout this process and we will continue to do so. I expect to have more to share by the end of the week.

UPDATE — 1 May 2020:  Last week when the governor held a call with county commissioners from across the state to lay out some of her plans for reopening certain businesses during phase one, I asked her if we could include churches in the conversation. She agreed to look into it and asked if we would host a discussion with clergy from different places of worship and faith communities. This week we held that virtual meeting and it was amazing. I expected about 10 faith leaders to join us, but instead we had 113 pastors, priests, rabbis, and other faith leaders from all over Marion County join our call.

The main take away was that we want to make sure that places of worship are treated equally as other gathering spaces when it comes to social distancing guidelines. It makes no sense for the government to allow gathering at restaurants, stores, malls, bars and wineries, but not to allow gathering at churches. Many churches and places of worship have been some of the most conscientious in following social distancing guidelines and are committed to continuing to ensure that all of us stay safe.

The governor's office has released draft guidance for restaurants, bars, breweries, wineries and retail stores. I borrowed heavily from these documents and sent similar draft guidance for places of worship for the governor's office to review. I am hopeful that the governor's office will treat all gathering places fairly and include places of worship in phase one reopening.

Church food bank

One way that our local churches are partnering with Marion County is in supporting our effort to provide food boxes to those people who are quarantined after testing positive for coronavirus. I am so grateful for their support.

If you want to help, the donation site is open weekly on Monday and Tuesday at St. Edwards Church in Keizer from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. You can visit for more information.

Another great thing that has happened recently is that cities in Marion County are using their own economic development dollars to support small businesses in our community during this time of crisis. Earlier in the year we gave each city in Marion County $15,000 a year for three years to support local economic development. Recently the Keizer City Council voted to dedicate this money to provide $2,500 forgivable loans to up to 18 local businesses. If you are a small business in Keizer and would like to apply to this program you can learn more at the city's website here.

Finally we are starting to see a clearly picture of the governor's thinking when it comes to reopening. She said today in her press conference that some parts of eastern Oregon could open phase one by May 15 but she has not set a date for the Willamette Valley. I will continue to encourage her to allow a phased reopening here in Marion County that ensures that we can continue to manage this disease and keep our citizens safe.

UPDATE — 24 April 2020:  Today we submitted our plan to the Governor to gradually reopen some of the businesses that were closed by recent executive orders. Our plan is a phased plan that leaves in place social distancing while allowing some businesses to reopen in a limited way. It also lays out our efforts to ramp up testing in Marion County and to provide our health care providers and public health workers with the resources they need to keep us safe.

Although we are not out of the woods by any means, our hospitals' capacity to treat victims of this disease has increased and we are moving forward with a phased reopening in line with the federal and state governments' guidelines.

Yesterday the Governor announced that hospitals can begin elective surgeries again, which have been halted since March 16.

Last week, I gave an interview on KOIN-6 about our ongoing efforts here in Marion County to keep our community safe and fight this coronavirus pandemic. You can watch the interview by clicking the image below.

KOIN interview

We also have been overwhelmed by the desperate need that our small businesses are facing in our community. Several weeks ago the other commissioners and I set aside $200,000 from our economic development fund for small business grants for businesses with 5 employees or less who have been hurt due to the coronavirus pandemic. There was a 24-hour period in which we accepted applications. During that 24 hours we received over 1,000 applications! As a result, we allocated up to an additional $800,000 to help the small businesses that had submitted applications to survive this crisis. As of today we have sent grants to over 700 small businesses and we are continuing to review applications. You can read more about this effort here.

County volunteers have also partnered with St. Edward's Church in Keizer to deliver food boxes to people who are quarantined at home. I am really proud of our employees going above and beyond to support our people. You can read more about the effort here.

I have been overwhelmed by the gratitude we have received from the people and small businesses we have helped, so many of these people have given so much to our community for decades. We should be thanking them. It is amazing how just a little bit can bring so much hope to our community.

Finally, the county recently released a new dashboard that identifies the number of cases and location in our community. You can see it here. It is a good way to keep up to date on how the virus is affecting Marion County.

Please don't hesitate to ask if there is any way we can help you during this time.

UPDATE — 10 April 2020:  After a couple of tough weeks, I want to give you some good news. Our hospitals have been able to increase their capacity and our hospitalization numbers appear to be leveling. We have rushed over 20,000 gloves, masks, and face shields to our hospitals and first responders and it appears that they will be able to weather the storm. I recently learned that our hospitals now have enough equipment to last through May.  This is a big achievement. I want to thank all of you who have stayed home and limited your interactions with others. I know this has been extremely painful to many in our community.  But it has worked.

Appropriately, this week was National Public Health Week. I want to thank in a special way all of the public health workers at Marion County who have worked so hard to contain the coronavirus in our community.

Now the question before us is how do we get people back to work in a way that is safe.The reality is that this virus is now with us and will continue to be a threat until there is a vaccine. But with adequate medical treatment the vast majority of people, even in vulnerable categories, survive. You can see our discussion on the topic below 48 minutes into the video.

Video cover MC Logo
Board Session

This doesn't mean that life is immediately going back to normal. The governor has not set a date for reopening restaurants for dine-in service and she recently announced that schools will remain closed for the remainder of the year. She also announced that she may release prisoners early from our prisons. I think this is wrong. In Marion County we were able to manage a coronavirus outbreak among our jail deputies without releasing prisoners. I hope that the Governor would do the same.

On Wednesday, I was on a call with the President of the United States. He spoke with county commissioners across the country to share with us federal efforts to assist our communities and to encourage us to keep up our fight against this virus. As a nation we are fighting this virus together.

I also want you to know that the Oregon Department of Transportation just approved the McKay Road corridor in French Prairie as the first county safety corridor in the state!  This stretch of road has been dangerous and the new state designation will allow our public works department to lower speeds and make other precautions to make the road much more safe. Thank you to everyone who lobbied the state to secure this designation.

I hope you have a wonderful Passover week and a blessed Easter.

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 [email protected]. 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


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,



get updates