March 3, 2021 — Oregon’s first recorded case of the novel coronavirus COVID-19 was announced Feb. 28, 2020. Now, one year later, the virus continues to impact nearly every aspect of people’s lives.
“[Feb. 28] marks one year since the first case of COVID-19 was reported in Oregon,” said Oregon Gov. Kate Brown in a press conference last Friday. She also announced a 60-day extension of the COVID-19 state of emergency in the state, until May 2.
“Last March, there were 14 known cases of COVID-19 in Oregon. We have now seen more than 150,000 cases across the state and, sadly, 2,194 deaths,” Brown said.
A lot has happened in a year — on the global stage, nationally, statewide and locally in western Lane County. Like other media outlets, Siuslaw News has tracked COVID-19 from its earliest detections and into the pandemic designation. Here’s a look back over the past year of the virus.
Oregon Health Authority (OHA) confirmed its first presumptive case of the novel coronavirus COVID-19 in an Oregon resident of Washington County on Feb. 28.
Locally, PeaceHealth Peace Harbor, emergency responders, the area’s two school districts and others prepared for a possible outbreak with one clear message — be prepared and don’t panic.
“There’s no reason to panic at all,” said Western Lane Ambulance District and Siuslaw Valley Fire and Rescue Chief Michael Schick. “We need to be cautious and ready, but I think everything we do for influenza, we should be doing for coronavirus. It is a bad disease. You see a lot of death, a lot more than what we see with influenza. But if you take the same precautions, people should be okay.”
As far as preparing for a possible outbreak, local medical and emergency services stated that they were prepared to meet the needs of the community should the spread of COVID-19 escalate.
As for schools, Siuslaw School District had already prepared plans for closures as well as the use of the Siuslaw Middle School gym as a designated emergency medical refuge and triage site. In addition, school buses were designated as emergency transport in the event of a community emergency.
“All of our school resources would go into supporting the community at-need first,” said Siuslaw Superintendent Andy Grzeskowiak.
At the state level, Oregon Health Authority (OHA) began to provide weekly public updates.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the total number of COVID-19 cases globally reached more than 90,000, with more just over 80 reported cases in the U.S.
On March 8, Brown declared a state of emergency over the virus. By then, there were 15 presumptive and confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Oregon, with seven counties reporting at least one case. By March 11, WHO declared the coronavirus to be a pandemic — a recognition that the virus had, or would soon, spread around the globe.
“This is not just a public health crisis, it is a crisis that will touch every sector — so every sector and every individual must be involved in the fight,” said WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.
Oregon’s governor began issuing executive orders, limiting gatherings at first and eventually closing schools, canceling events and restricting access to parks. Governments, businesses and schools began holding virtual meetings and many people began to work from home. Medical centers prepared for the worst, with community members stepping in to sew handmade personal protective equipment, such as masks and hospital gowns.
On March 14, a 70-year-old Multnomah County man was the first person to die from COVID-19 in Oregon. Three days later, Lane County Public Health (LCPH) was notified of the first positive COVID-19 test in the county — a 69-year-old man in the Eugene/Springfield area. The first death reported was a 60-year-old woman, who passed away March 14. A COVID-19 test was administered after her death.
Locally, Lane County Emergency Management groups began to meet, including City of Florence, PeaceHealth, Florence Police Department, SVFR, WLAD and Siuslaw and Mapleton school districts. The schools began to deliver food daily to students’ families. Restaurants joined in the food distribution.
More and more locations shut down, including Siuslaw Public Library and Three Rivers Casino Resort, and the Dunes City and Florence city councils declared states of emergency in their cities.
Help was soon announced, however, as the U.S. Senate voted unanimously to approve the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, a $2.2 trillion fiscal stimulus package, which the House of Representatives passed.
April began with applications for the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans authorized under the CARES Act. In the first weekend, the staff at Oregon Pacific Bank received hundreds of applications.
Brown officially closed in-person schools for the remainder of the school year. “School, and learning, will continue as best as we can using remote means,” she said.
Brown also joined the governors of Washington and California on April 13 in a “Western States Pact,” which outlined a shared approached to restarting public life and business. The pact agreed on the principles of prioritizing residents’ health, guiding reopening decisions by science rather than politics and working together effectively among states.
Life in Western Lane County adapted to stay-at-home measures, including holding drive-by birthday parades, teacher parades and virtual meetings. City Lights Cinemas began to offer film streaming. Mapleton School District launched “Be the Light,” which honored its 2020 seniors by lighting up the football stadium each Friday night until graduation.
People began to receive their economic impact payment (also called stimulus checks) from the federal government. This helped bridge the gap for the thousands of people left unemployed or furloughed from the pandemic. Rent and utility protections went into place.
LCPH continued to monitor COVID-19 spread in the community. However, Siuslaw News was the first to report that Lane County did not have a way to confirm the location of COVID-19 cases in rural parts of the county. Instead, it either reported cases as “in Eugene/Springfield” or “in a rural area outside of Eugene/Springfield.” Soon after, OHA began to offer metrics for each zip code.
In the months since February, Oregon lost 360,000 jobs due to the pandemic, equaling 18 percent of all jobs in the state. Oregon ranked 39th in the country for COVID-19 cases, and the deaths per capita was one of the lowest in the nation at just two per 100,000, compared to Washington’s 11. By comparison, New York had 121 deaths per 100,000.
The month of May saw the beginning of a lift of restrictions in Oregon. PeaceHealth was able to open for elective procedures and Brown announced the limited reopening of some outdoor parks and recreation areas.
On May 7, the governor announced a framework for rebuilding a “safe and strong Oregon,” including new guidance on the phased reopening process. Counties had to have a decline in COVID-19 cases and have hospital capacity. In Phase I, restaurants and bars could open for sit-down service; personal care and services businesses, including barbers and salons, could open; and in-person gatherings of up to 25 people were allowed.
Lane County submitted its proposal and entered Phase 1 on May 15. This led to the reopening of Three Rivers Casino Resort, as well as Siuslaw Public Library accepting item returns. However, the 113th Rhododendron Festival was not held. However, community members hold a small virtual celebration and a special virtual “parade” coordinated by the City of Florence. There was no Queen Rhododendra and King of the Coast from the Royal Courts, but all seniors were recognized as the “Quarantine Court.” It was the first time since World War II that the festival was canceled.
On June 2, OHA confirms the first COVID-19 case in Florence’s 97439 zip code. The first mass-testing event does not occur until the end of June, when LCPH hosted three free COVID-19 testing options in the Siuslaw region.
Lane County began Phase II of Kate Brown’s reopening plan for Oregon on June 5. This phase included opening museums, movie theaters, bowling alleys and arcades, allowed recreational sports, loosened restaurant and bar curfew restrictions and expanded outdoor gatherings to 100 people.
However, on June 15, Brown slowed the state’s reopening process. “In order to ensure that the virus is not spreading too quickly, I am putting all county applications for further reopening on hold. … It is time to press pause for one week before any further reopening,” she said.
By mid-June, Lane County reported 88 positive COVID-19 test results, with three deaths.
Locally, Boys and Girls Clubs of Western Lane County was able to open its doors after being authorized as an emergency childcare center. The two school districts continued to serve meals to their students and made plans for reopening schools in comprehensive distance learning (CDL) in the fall.
Siuslaw Outreach Services raised over $120,000 through grants to help toward rent and utilities through its COVID-19 Assistance Fund.
On July 9, OHA reported 389 new confirmed and presumptive cases of COVID-19, bringing the state total to 11,188. It was the highest single-day rise in the case count state since the start of the pandemic. In addition, the state’s death toll reached 230.
By July 15, the Florence area had 12 confirmed cases. This prompted LCPH officials to urge people to “stay home” as much as possible.
Midmonth, the City of Florence announced a new parking plan for Historic Old Town, which expanded outdoor seating allowances for local restaurants.
At the end of the month, several businesses briefly closed as employees tested positive for COVID-19. After deep cleaning, they all reopened.
OHA reported 17,088 confirmed cases of COVID-19 by July 28, with statewide deaths totaling 289. LCPH authorities confirmed a total of 458 cases in Lane County, resulting in 3 deaths.
LCPH Public Information Officer Jason Davis said he was not surprised that Florence was experiencing an uptick in COVID-related closings.
“Absolutely, we at Lane County Health feel and understand that Florence has unique challenges as people go to the coast after being stuck at home for so long,” he said. “The coast is more and more of an option for people looking to get away for a few days. We have discussed in our meetings the number of cases being tracked by zip code — and we are well aware of what’s going on out there.”
COVID-19 stats as of Aug. 1 were 474 cases in Lane County. The state reached 18,131 cases and 316 deaths.
Before August, school districts were hoping to reopen in a hybrid model. Brown announced new metrics, which meant all schools would remain in CDL through at least October. And, while some schools were able to hold practices for certain sports, no one could predict what sports would look like under COVID-19.
Oregon School Activities Association (OSAA) determined that practices could continue, but actual contests would wait until January.
“Going forward, I hope we can put things together for kids to play the sports that they love. Right now, hope is something that we can all use a little dose of,” said Siuslaw Athletic Director Chris Johnson.
Oregon RAIN (Regional Accelerator and Innovation Network) worked to help businesses adapt to virtual life. It launched a 10-week sales and marketing accelerator that was open to people all over the state.
Wildfires broke out across the West Coast, including multiple fires in Mapleton set by an arsonist. COVID-19 caused some delays in sending aid, though people still raised money and donated food, water and supplies to the relief mission.
Labor Day again brought the crowds to the area, with a packed Old Town making it difficult to social distance. This was mostly welcome for area merchants and those in the tourism industry, as well as the Port of Siuslaw.
By the end of the month, Oregon saw 457 new COVID-19 reported cases in one day, with 50 of those in Lane County. LCPH reported 1,164 cases and 18 deaths. The 97439 zip code had 22 reported cases.
The steadily rising number of cases prompted Dr. Jim McGovern, with PeaceHealth, to say, “More than six months have passed since the pandemic began and COVID-19 is very much still with us. In fact, it appears as though the preparations made by hospitals and other care providers at the beginning of the outbreak will now need to be utilized. We are trending up toward a significant surge as we are now seeing our highest number of positive COVID-19 cases to-date.”
Locally, Mapleton and Siuslaw school districts began the 2020-21 school year in CDL. Boys and Girls Club initiated PACE, an all-day program that allowed staff to help children with their distance learning activities in the morning while engaging in traditional club activities in the afternoon.
September also amped up towards the November election, with local races bringing aspects of the national debates to town. Lane County Republicans hosted a Candidate Q&A at the Florence Events Center for local city council candidates, as well as candidates from other Republican races. The event, however, showed differing positions on COVID-19, as many in the crowd did not wear masks or maintain six feet of distance despite attempts by organizers to enforce guideline requirements.
On Oct. 7, Lane County led the state in confirmed COVID-19 cases, with 53 of the 305 new cases in Oregon. The county reported another 90 in the next two days, leading to a total of 1,723 cases in the county. LCPH had to conduct contact tracing for each case, attempting to keep tabs on 617 people who may have been exposed to the virus.
“We can have an outbreak or clusters in one population of people, but unless the entire community is really taking the health recommendations seriously and being vigilant on those, then we will see spread to all corners of our community,” Davis said. “Unfortunately, that’s what we’re starting to see.”
By Oct. 7, Oregon had a total of 36,116 cases and 594 deaths from COVID-19.
Brown moved Lane County to the watch list on Oct. 16, saying, “It will take the entire county working together to bring these numbers under control. Once COVID-19 is spreading in the community, small family get-togethers can also lead to dozens of infections.”
Local businesses also continued to report the impacts of COVID-19, with small closures for testing and sanitation. One of those was Siuslaw Public Library, which resumed operations soon after.
Although autumn was normally filled with seasonal adventures, most large-scale events were reduced or converted to virtual. CROW held a pumpkin carving contest and Coast Radio, True Value and SVFR gave out pumpkins in a drive-by format.
Brown extended the state of emergency over COVID-19, citing the over 200,000 Americans who had died from COVID-19.
Brown announced new metrics for the return to school through OHA and Oregon Department of Education’s “Ready Schools, Safe Learners” guidance.
Oregon continued to show a rise in COVID-19 cases, due in part to the resumption of school for grades k-12, but also the return of collegiate students in Eugene.
On Nov. 18, Brown mandated a statewide “two-week freeze,” during which restaurants could serve take-out and delivery only, social get-togethers were limited to six people, faith-based gatherings were limited to 25 indoors and 50 outdoors, and gyms, pools and other large venues were closed.
The governor said, “The dreaded winter surge is here,” noting that hospitals were expecting an influx of COVID-19 patients during what could be the “roughest days of the pandemic.”
Community groups again adapted to COVID-19 safety measures — this time to raise food and funds with the annual Pounding for Florence Food Share and provide a to-go Thanksgiving Dinner, planned by the Florence Kiwanis Club at the Florence Elks Lodge.
“It’s a little different this year,” said Kiwanian Shannon Sheets.
In addition, Lane County provided the use of 20 Pallet shelters to the Florence Emergency Cold Weather Shelter so it could provide shelter to the unhoused during COVID-19. A partnership with the City of Florence and First Step Florence allowed the shelters to be installed at a temporary site north of town.
By the end of November, Oregon had 912 deaths, 4,518 hospitalizations and 75,431 cases of COVID-19.
Local businesses continued to feel the impact from the pandemic, exacerbated by the governor’s “freeze,” which was extended. Lane County’s chambers of commerce penned a letter to Brown pleading for relief for small businesses. City Lights Cinemas again adapted, this time offering curbside concessions as well as its streaming service.
On Dec. 18, Oregon reported more than 100,000 cases of COVID-19, bringing the state total to 100,308.
Again, there was hope, as the state received its first doses of vaccine, made by Pfizer Inc. and BioNTech SE, on Dec. 14. A vaccine manufactured by Moderna Inc. arrived on Dec. 22. By the end of the month, the state received 124,705 doses of the Pfizer vaccine.
PeaceHealth Peace Harbor Medical Center administered its first COVID-19 vaccinations on Dec. 24.
Mapleton and Siuslaw school districts began limited in-person instruction (LIPI), bringing small amounts of students back to campus for the first time since the previous March.
“It’s very structured,” said Mapleton Superintendent Jodi O’Mara. “There’s a lot of expectations, lots of guidelines, and lots of protocols in place to keep everyone safe. It took a lot of planning and training and a lot of conversations, but we were able to make it happen — and we are so grateful we are.”
OSAA revised the school sports calendar, moving the start of activities to late February.
December remained a time for winter cheer, which people helped foster with the Soroptimist International of Florence’s Christmas Food Basket Giveaway, Florence Elks’ to-go Christmas Dinner, small fundraisers and toy giveaways. New Year’s Eve traditions were similarly quiet.
“I know the mere thought of 2020 coming to an end brings a smile to many of our faces. It surely has been a year for the books,” Brown said. “Even in our most difficult moments, I continue to be endlessly impressed with how Oregonians come together and lift one another up during tough times.”
On Jan. 1, Lane County and 23 other counties remained in “extreme risk” of community spread of COVID-19. In Florence, cases of COVID-19 surpassed 80 as small clusters were reported from social gatherings.
“Every week, more Oregonians are being vaccinated against this deadly disease. But, until vaccines are widely available with high participation rates, the surest way to open our communities is to continue practicing the measures we know are effective in reducing the spread of COVID-19 — wear your mask, keep physical distance from others, avoid gatherings, wash your hands often, and stay home when you are sick,” Brown said.
Florence reported its first two deaths from COVID-19, with 36 new cases reported in just two weeks.
Despite the rising local numbers, the Little Brown Hen and The Firehouse restaurants chose to reopen for indoor dining.
“If businesses reopen too early and, instead, create new spikes in COVID-19 cases, the actions of a few business owners could set entire communities back and keep them in the ‘extreme risk’ category for even longer,” said Brown.
LCPH hosted a Vaccine Town Hall to emphasize that “vaccines belong in arms, not freezers” and that the state is working to inoculate people as vaccine supply becomes available.
Mapleton and Siuslaw school districts continued to bring students in for LIPI while revising plans under new “Ready Schools, Safe Learners” guidance that said hybrid options could begin in February.
City Lights Cinemas’ GoFundMe campaign was fully funded, keeping the lights shining despite the ravages of the pandemic on the movie theater’s business model. Additional businesses briefly closed and reopened due to cases of COVID-19, with no large clusters reported, and vaccinations continue their slow roll out.
On Feb. 4, Lane County announced the opening of COVID-19 vaccination preregistration. So many people logged in to sign up that Lane County’s website went down for several days.
OSAA sanctioned the beginning of the football season, so the Siuslaw Vikings played a 7-on-7 match-up against Sweet Home at Hans Petersen Field on Feb. 5. Volleyball received approval once counties could enter the “high risk” or lower designation — which Lane County did on Feb. 26.
Under “high risk,” people were still asked to wear a mask, limit gatherings to small groups, keep at least six feet distance between people, wash their hands, stay home when sick and consider getting a flu vaccine. However, restrictions lifted on restaurants, allowing limited in-person dining, and other businesses.
Brown also extended the state of emergency for COVID-19 while acknowledging the work counties were doing to improve case rates.
On Feb. 10, Mapleton Elementary opened for hybrid learning, with Siuslaw Elementary following on Feb. 22. Upper grades began to be phased in, with plans to bring them in by the end of March and spring break. In addition, both school districts were able to fully vaccinate their staffs.
Locally, Florence Area Chamber of Commerce decided to “postpone” the 114th Rhododendron Festival.
In addition, OSHA fined the Little Brown Hen and The Firehouse restaurants for “willful violations” for allowing in-person dining and potentially exposing employees to COVID-19. The fines totaled $35,950, but the businesses have the right to appeal.
By the end of February, Oregon had 155,787 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 2,212 deaths. This joined the more than 500,000 total American deaths due to COVID reported on Feb. 22.
“Every life lost to COVID-19 is a tragedy,” Brown said. “With more than 500,000 Americans who have died from this virus, there are infinitely more people who are now without a friend, family member or other loved one. … I hope that, as we remember all those we have lost, we collectively continue to help protect each other from this disease.”
One Year In
COVID-19 has been in Oregon for more than a year now.
“Oregon was one of the first states in the nation to report a case of COVID-19, but a year later our state has the fourth lowest coronavirus case rate in the nation, the fourth lowest death rate and the fourth lowest COVID-19 death rate among seniors. If Oregon’s death rate matched the nation’s, three times as many Oregonians would have lost their lives,” stated OHA Director Patrick Allen. “You made the difference.”
Citing the many safety measures enacted by governments, organizations, businesses and individuals, Allen emphasized, “we depend on each other to save lives.”
He reported that 973,022 first and second doses of COVID-19 vaccine have been administered in Oregon.
Brown also announced a new vaccine prioritization schedule, which she hopes will see all Oregonians 16 and older eligible for the vaccine by July 1.
“Come summer, provided supplies from the federal government continue as planned, any Oregonian who wants the vaccine will be eligible to receive it,” Brown said. “While that gives us all a reason to breathe a sigh of relief, it should also serve as a reminder that the finish line is in sight — and we cannot let up.”
For more information and COVID-19 in Oregon, visit govstatus.egov.com/OR-OHA-COVID-19 or covidvaccine.oregon.gov.
For additional local coverage of the pandemic, visit TheSiuslawNews.com.