Special meeting called after school board pressed for action
BEND, Ore (KTVZ) -- The Bend City Council met in an emergency session Thursday to discuss the recent surge of COVID-19 cases in Oregon and Deschutes County, and discuss steps they can take to help combat it, in hopes of getting kids back in school.
With much of the surge tied to private, social gatherings, a big topic of discussion for the council was messaging.
City Manager Eric King said, "The challenge here, is we don't have the (legal) ability to go into people's private homes."
That's why he said curbing the spread of COVID-19 in Bend and around the state (the nation, in fact) has been so difficult.
And that's concerning everyone, with Thanksgiving just two weeks away.
Deschutes County Health Services Director Dr. George Conway detailed a large amount of stats and information in his presentation to councilors.
"We need to coherently message and discourage large holiday gatherings," Conway said. "And this, of course, is in the governor's message last week."
Conway said there have been 36 outbreaks in the county since Oct. 1, 25 of them in Bend, including six at long-term care facilities, three at gym, exercise and recreation facilities, and two at private parties, though they were more frequently mentioned.
Because bars and restaurants have not been added to the state's contact tracing questionnaire, Conway added: "Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence."
And the knowledge has evolved with the virus, which began mostly affecting older people, then middle-aged adults and in the last few months has seen a definite shift toward young adults and teens.
Everyone going into enclosed spaces as it gets colder is a definite factor in the rise of cases. But Conway said there are things that can be done to make schools safer, once reopened, including frequent antigen testing of teachers and staff, as well as first responders.
Just as the online council meeting ended, the Oregon Health Authority reported another record daily COVID-19 case count -- 1,122 -- and the governor has called a noon Friday news conference to address the "alarming spike" in cases and hospitalizations, and is likely to discuss further steps.
Meanwhile, closer to home, some city councilors are worried about the lack of messaging on COVID in the last few months.
Councilor Barb Campbell said, "It still just really frustrates me to see a City of Bend public service announcement about anything other than COVID right now."
The city hasn't posted a public service announcement related to COVID on its YouTube page since late June. City Manager Eric King said a new campaign featuring students is in the works.
If COVID cases are not under control soon, schools could stay closed in Deschutes County much longer.
Messaging is something the Bend-La Pine School Board wants the city to improve.
Board Chair Carrie Douglass told them, "We know that a significant amount of spread is occurring in homes, where none of us have the ability to stop them. So we all must do a better job about educating our public about how we can gather safely."
"We believe our community is failing our students by not doing everything they can to lower the rate and get kids back in school," she said. "I don't want to make this about businesses vs. kids. But in reality, businesses are also going to suffer, if it gets out of control."
"So we're all intertwined," Douglass said. "We're in this together, and we need to work together to lower cases." She also said the schoo; board is "very frustrated with inconsistency in the state's metrics guidelines."
Douglass said she wanted to make clear, "We're not asking for wide, sweeping restrictions on business and tourism. In fact, the xact opposite. … We are asking for targeted, short-term intervention to get case rates down."
The city council agreed unanimously to use CARES Act funding to develop more messaging to educate people on how to stop the spread of COVID-19.
Stricter enforcement of state requirements is also something the school board requested.
In October, there were 13 complaints to police and 14 to city code enforcement officers, Police Chief Mike Krantz and city Code Enforcement Officer James Goff said. Already in November, there's already been 15 complaints to code enforcement and seven to police.
A majority of councilors agreed to devote more funds to code enforcement and to set the minimum fine for violating businesses at $750, the same as other code violations. (For individuals, the citations remain on a sliding scale, from $100 for the first offense $250 for the second and $500 for the third.)
As always, the first goal is to educate and gain compliance. In fact, only one citation has been issued, to the Seven Nightclub, for mask violations, which also resulted in an immediate OLCC license suspension recently.
The city created a Mask Complaint Hotline earlier this year - find out more at https://www.bendoregon.gov/services/resources/covid-19-information