Hood River County Commissioners will hold a special online meeting Thursday at 5 p.m. to consider orders to close short-term rentals and hotels within the County and the County forestlands to recreation. The short-term rental closure would be in a line with action taken last week by the City of Hood River, and a forestland closure would make the County consistent with other agencies that have closed public lands during the COVID-19 crisis to maintain social distancing. During a worksession Wednesday afternoon, Commission Chair Mike Oates said he was concerned about having the only open public lands in the Gorge, and how many people could be attracted from out of the area. Information on how to log in to Thursday’s meeting is available at the Hood River County website.
The Northern Wasco County PUD Board has postponed a planned rate increase until May 2021. The board had approved the rate increase in February to become effective with bills in May of this year. But board members met Wednesday to revisit that decision, and unanimously approved a resolution to postpone the increase for 12 months. PUD General Manager Roger Kline says they have an appropriate level of financial reserves to support the delay. The original communication letter regarding the rate increase had already been sent to the PUD’s vendor for distribution, so customers should disregard it if you happen to receive it. Northern Wasco PUD has suspended service disconnects for non-payment as well as the issuance of late payment fees for the duration of the COVID-19 crisis.
As schools in Oregon work to have distance learning for students in place by April 13, North Wasco County School District 21 has begun to outline what that will look like for its students. Superintendent Candy Armstrong said in a statement Wednesday afternoon that starting with The Dalles High School, each school is sending out an update to students and parents. At the high school level all courses will be delivered via Google Classroom. Classwork will be graded for credit as it would in a traditional classroom setting. Armstrong indicated teachers are reaching out to students and will be working with them to eliminate any barriers students may have in accessing and participating in the courses.
The Hood River County School District has begun to get its teachers ready for distance learning. Superintendent Sara Hahn-Huston said in a statement on the district’s website that the district’s technology department began distributing devices to secondary students Wednesday and is reaching out to families who may have barriers to Internet access. District staff will be connecting with families and students this week. Hahn-Huston indicated the district will provide more information on their distance learning plans next week.
Wasco County Commissioners discussed concerns with acquiring Personal Protective Equipment for first responders at their Wednesday meeting. Commissioners specifically discussed some questions about whether eastern Oregon counties were receiving distribution on an equal footing with larger counties to the west. Commissioner Scott Hege says they considered sending a letter to Governor Kate Brown but decided to wait. Hege noted they have conference calls with the state to get updates on the PPE situation.
Wasco County Commissioners have approved an agreement on a long-discussed split of about $3.9 million in building code reserve funds left from the now-defunct Mid-Columbia Council of Governments. Under the agreement, Wasco County will receive 80 percent of the funds, and Sherman and Gilliam counties will receive 10 percent each. By state law the funds must be used for building codes purposes, and Commissioner Scott Hege says they will act as a reserve fund for the County’s program established as MCCOG dissolved. Wheeler County will not receive any of the funds because it has elected to have the state administer its building codes program. Wasco County Commissioners approved the agreement during its second online meeting on Wednesday. Hege says it went well, including two presentations and a public hearing on fees.
Washington State 14th District Representative Gina Mosbrucker says the state’s employment security department has been swamped with claims, so patience may be necessary to apply. Mosbrucker says people can apply for unemployment insurance online, but Washington ESD has seen an over 1,000 percent increase in calls, and people are getting high volume messages on the phone and at times getting kicked off the system. Mosbrucker says the department is trying to add staff to deal with the volume, and those who are calling need to be persistent. Mosbrucker said her office is receiving numerous calls from people needing help navigating the system to get unemployment benefits, adding they are trying to help as many as they can. There are also links to resources available at houserepublicans.wa.gov.
Skamania County says it will not be extending the April 30 deadline for paying taxes. But beginning April 15 the Skamania County Treasurer’s office will be accepting applications to assist eligible taxpayers with emergency income issues. County officials say they do recognize the financial impact the COVID-19 pandemic has caused and will take those cases into consideration. To apply, call the Skamania County Treasurer’s office at 509-427-3760 to apply.
The Oregon School Activities Association Executive Board decided during an online meeting on Wednesday to continue its current suspension of spring activities but chose not to cancel any state championships at this time. OSAA Executive Director Peter Weber said in a memo to member schools that the board has been aligning its decisions with Governor Kate Brown’s school closure orders and plans to continue on that path. Weber went on to say if the Governor orders in-person student learning shutdown for the remainder of this school year, the OSAA would also cancel its spring activities and state championships. He added board members discussed the potential of shifting spring activities and state championships into the summer and are not supportive of that concept at this time. The OSAA Executive Board has an online meeting scheduled for April 15 to review the situation.
North Wasco County School District 21 has added a grab and go location and is starting bus delivery options today for its free meals for anyone 18 and under. Dry Hollow Elementary is now a pick up location along with The Dalles Middle School and Chenowith Elementary every weekday from 11 a.m. to noon. In addition, the district is adding four bus delivery options. Route 1 will be at the corner of Chenowith Road and Foley Lakes from 11 a.m. to 11:25 a.m. and the corner of Chenowith and Oak from 11:30 to noon. Route 2 will be at Verdant and 8th Street from 11 a.m. to 11:25 and Walnut and 8th from 11:30 to noon. Route 3 will act as a Colonel Wright Elementary drop-off site from 11 a.m. to noon. And Route 4 will be at 10th Street and Thompson Road from 11 a.m. to 11:25, then on 17th and Thompson from 11:30 to noon.
The Oregon Health Authority reported 84 new cases of COVID-19 in the state on Tuesday, including three in the Mid-Columbia area. Hood River County reported one new case, moving the total in the County to three, while Wasco County reported two more to move its total to seven. The state has so far reported 690 COVID-19 cases, while there have been 13,126 negative tests. Hood River County has had 133 negative tests for COVID-19, Wasco County 107, Gilliam County 4, and Sherman County three. The deaths that were reported today were a 90-year-old man in Yamhill County and an 88-year-old woman in Benton County, both with underlying medical conditions. Of the 690 COVID-19 cases in Oregon, 154 have required hospitalization, with 40 patients placed on a ventilator. The state reports it has 749 ventilators available. In Washington there have been delays in updating COVID-19 data, with the state health department indicating tracking of negative results is overwhelming the tool it uses for doing so. So far in Washington there have been 4,896 reported cases of COVID-19, with seven in Klickitat County and one in Skamania County. There have been 195 fatalities, with one in Klickitat County.