Willamette Valley News, Thursday, 10/15 – Another 60 Covid-19 Cases in Lane County Overnight; Group in West Eugene Looking for Facility to Help House Homeless

The latest news stories and stories of interest in Eugene-Springfield area and around the state of Oregon from the online digital home of the valley, WillametteValleyMagazine.com.

Thursday, October 15, 2020

Willamette Valley Weather

Today Areas of dense fog before 2pm, then partly sunny, then gradually becoming sunny, with a high near 62.

Friday Sunny, with a high near 67.

Saturday Partly sunny, with a high near 65.

Sunday A 20 percent chance of rain before 11am. Partly sunny, with a high near 65.

Monday A slight chance of showers before 11am. Partly sunny, with a high near 62.

Today’s Headlines

Oregon reports 390 new confirmed and presumptive COVID-19 cases, 3 new deaths

Oregon Health Authority reports today’s COVID-19 numbers which has claimed three more lives in Oregon, raising the state’s death toll to 608. Oregon Health Authority reported 390 new confirmed and presumptive cases of COVID-19 bringing the state total to 38,160.

Oregon’s new confirmed and presumptive COVID-19 cases reported today are in the following counties: Benton (3), Clackamas (27), Clatsop (1), Columbia (1), Coos (3), Crook (2), Deschutes (7), Douglas (8), Jackson (28), Jefferson (2), Josephine (2), Klamath (2), Lane (60), Lincoln (2), Linn (5), Malheur (11), Marion (63), Multnomah (88), Polk (4), Umatilla (14), Wallowa (1), Washington (51), and Yamhill (5).

Residents in Eugene are petitioning city and county leaders to transform a vacant church at 18th Avenue and Chambers Street into a facility for the homeless. The church, unoccupied is about 12,000-square-feet on a one acre lot. 

A group known as the Westside Shelter Search Team that operates within the Jefferson Westside Neighbors group, said the building has the potential to provide a number of services for Eugene’s vulnerable population, including kitchen facilities, bathrooms, office space, classrooms and a large gathering space to seat up to 200 people.

Group members toured the church and says the space could also serve as a rest stop, warming center, day center or emergency shelter. She pointed out that it is also nearby several grocery stores and bus stops, providing convenient services for potential guests to the site.

One spokesperson says the community must pull together or it’s going to get worse and worse and worse for the homeless in Eugene. With people sleeping in alleys and streets, here is a facility that could help those in need in the current unhoused problem in the county.

 A caregiver at a retirement home in Junction City has been arrested for elder abuse.  Noelle Jendraszek, 25, was taken to the Lane County Jail for 55 counts of first-degree criminal mistreatment, 44 counts of tampering with drug records, five counts of second-degree theft, and six counts of third-degree theft.

Police said the woman stole money, jewelry and drugs from residents at Junction City Retirement and Assisted Living, 500 E. 6th St. This is the same nursing home that was evacuated last week after a power outage, drawing the attention of state regulators. Department of Human Services records show reports of abuse at the Junction City facility going back a decade.

Jendraszek has reportedly been cooperating with the investigation and has talked with investigators about her “wrongdoings,” police said. She has reportedly admitted to withholding vital and medically necessary medications from 44 vulnerable residents in her care.

The investigation began Sept. 10 when a resident’s son reported cash had been stolen from his elderly father. The man had moved into the Junction City facility in August 2018. Investigators talked to Jendraszek, who had been a med-tech there since October 2018. Within hours, the woman reportedly surrendered about 275 pieces of jewelry she said she’d stolen from residents at multiple facilities.

Jendraszek has been employed at all of the following facilities in the past five years, including:

  • Cedar Village Assisted Living Community – Salem
  • Capital Manor Retirement Community – Salem
  • Four Seasons Residential Care – Salem
  • Junction City Retirement and Assisted Living – Junction City
  • Gibson Creek by Bonaventure – Salem
  • Prestige Senior Living Orchard Heights – Salem
  • Redwood Heights Retirement and Assisted Living Community – Salem
  • River Grove Memory Care – Eugene

On Tuesday, The University of Oregon announced winter classes will be a mixture of online, remote, and in-person.

University President Michael Schill sent a letter to the campus community with the announcement. He said the decision was made after monitoring COVID-19 indicators and the increase in cases. The structure of the winter quarter will be similar to that of the fall quarter.

In-person classes will mostly be labs, studio, creative classes, and physical education. All other classes will be taught remotely or online.

President Schill said in the letter, the winter term class schedule is scheduled to be released on Nov. 16. All classes will be marked with ‘web’ or ‘remote to indicate the format.

When it comes to spring term, President Schill said he hopes there will be more in-person classes but it will require the university community to continue to be vigilant in fighting the virus.

Some of the last debris crossing the Santiam HIghway 22. Road is now open for traffic says ODOT.

Oregon Highway 22 through the Santiam Canyon now open for traffic

“Sections of the highway have been closed to traffic or controlled with pilot cars since Sept. 7 when a wind storm and series of wildfires caused devastating damage to communities and creating a series of hazards for travelers,” the Oregon Department of Transportation said.

ODOT estimates that over 30,000 hazard trees have been removed along a 40-mile stretch of the highway that was heavily impacted by the winds and wildfires.

“Hazard trees are dead, dying or leaning trees that were damaged by the wildfires, and would likely come down on the highway posing a risk to travelers,” ODOT said.

ODOT said travelers should be aware of the following:

  • The speed limit is reduced to 40 mph between Gates (milepost 33) and Pamelia Creek Road (milepost 63).
  • Significant work continues in the canyon and travelers should expect delays throughout the burn area.
  • Utility companies are working throughout the corridor to repair power lines. Utilities and ODOT continue to cut down hazard trees.
  • In addition to the ongoing work zones, hazards to travelers include damaged guardrail, roadside log decks and slash piles from the hazard tree removal, as well as the potential for falling rocks.
  • With fall and winter rains beginning, slides and debris flows are a particular concern, especially in areas where the vegetation, tree roots and underbrush have been stripped away.
  • Since many businesses and other facilities were damaged or destroyed by the fires, there are limited services available throughout the Santiam Canyon. Fill your gas tank, pack enough water, food and other supplies for the journey.
  • Travelers are urged to use extreme caution while traveling through the burn area. Add extra travel time or consider using an alternative route.
  • Access for pedestrians, including those with disabilities, will be available and identified through or around the work zones.

Around the state of Oregon

Amtrak’s only rail passenger train connecting Oregon with California — Coast Starlight — is reducing its long-distance services from daily to three times a week, effective Monday. 

Cities and train stations losing daily service include Portland, Salem, Albany, Chemult and Eugene to the north and Redding and Sacramento to the south. The service reduction is to due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting decrease in travel demand, Amtrak announced earlier this summer.

The Coast Starlight is one of the 10 long-distance routes that Amtrak will only run three times weekly this month.  The other route that will impact Oregon is the Empire Builder train, which provides service from Chicago to Seattle and Portland. Its service reduction to three times a week begins Oct. 19.

The Amtrak train network spans 21,000 national miles and hit peak ridership last year with 32.5 million passengers in 2019. Amtrak anticipates only half the amount of passengers in 2021 compared to what it experienced two years before.

Today OHA released its Weekly Report which showed that during the week of Oct. 5 through Oct. 11, OHA recorded 2,418 new cases of COVID-19 infection—up 18% from last week’s tally of 2,055 and the highest weekly total reported in Oregon to date.

The number of Oregonians newly tested rose 26%, to 28,490, and the percentage of tests that were positive rose slightly to 6.4% from 6.3% the prior week. Twenty-seven Oregonians were reported to have died in association with COVID-19—compared to 25 last week. One hundred forty-seven Oregonians were hospitalized, up from 119 in the previous week, and the highest weekly figure since mid-July.

Meanwhile, If passed by voters, Measure 108 in Oregon would increase taxes on cigars, cigarettes and nicotine vaping devices. The measure is on the ballot this November. It would increase taxes on a pack of cigarettes to $3.33 per pack, up from the current amount of $1.33. It would also increase cigar taxes to $1 per cigar, doubling the current rate of 50 cents. The measure would also create a 65% wholesale tax on e-cigarettes and nicotine vaping products. Ten percent of the new tax money would go toward smoking prevention programming while 90 percent would go to the Oregon Health Plan.

Oregon’s unemployment rate dropped to 8.0 percent in September from 8.5 percent, as revised, in August. For the past few months, Oregon’s unemployment rate has closely tracked the national unemployment rate which fell to 7.9 percent in September from 8.4 percent in August. Oregon’s total nonfarm payroll employment rose by 5,100 jobs in September, following a revised gain of 16,200 jobs in August. Over the past three months the rate of job growth slowed, with 39,000 jobs added in that time, following more rapid growth in May and June, when 83,100 jobs were added. Despite the recent slowdown, Oregon employers added jobs in each of the past five months, and the state has recovered 45 percent of the jobs cut in March and April. Over-the-month job gains in September were largest in leisure and hospitality (+2,600 jobs); financial activities (+1,600); health care and social assistance (+1,600); retail trade (+1,500); and information (+1,200). Employment totaled 163,200 in September, which was down 53,400 jobs, or 24.7%, since its peak month of February.

The University of Oregon said Tuesday that winter term courses will continue to be largely remote and online. The university in Eugene said it will continue to offer some classes in-person, such as science labs and physical education courses, Oregon Public Broadcasting reported. Thoe in-person courses will require face coverings and physical distancing, according to the university. The university in October has reported nearly 200 cases of coronavirus in university employees and students living on and off campus. Likewise, Lane County, where UO’s main campus is located, has also reported an increase in cases, some from the university community as well as other spikes such as workplace outbreaks.

Measure 107 is packed with proposed new limitations on campaign contributions that would amend the Oregon Constitution. The measure, which will be on the ballot this November, would allow the Legislature, local government bodies and voters to create laws that would limit political campaign contributions and expenditures, require disclosure of political campaign contributions and would require advertisements to display information about who funded them. Currently there are no such limitations on political campaigns in Oregon. A “yes” vote on the measure would allow laws to be created in Oregon that limit those contributions and expenditures. A “no” vote would keep current laws on the books.

Oregon State Police are investigating the unlawful killing of a wolf in the Keating Wildlife Management Unit on or about September 24, 2020. 

This incident occurred north west of New Bridge, OR in the Skull Creek drainage of the Wallowa Whitman National Forest.  The United States Forest Service 7741 Road accesses the Skull Creek drainage and the wolf was located off the 125 spur road.   

Anyone with information regarding this case is urged to contact OSP Sergeant Isaac Cyr through the Turn in Poachers (TIP) hotline at 1-800-452-7888 or *OSP (mobile).

** Report Wildlife and Habitat Law Violators** 

The TIP program offers preference point rewards for information leading to an arrest or issuance of a citation for the unlawful take/possession or waste of big game mammals.

The TIP program also offers cash rewards for information leading to an arrest or issuance of a citation for the unlawful take/possession or waste of Mountain Sheep, Mountain Goat, Moose, Elk, Deer, Antelope, Bear, Cougar, Wolf, Upland Birds, Waterfowl, and Furbearers. Cash rewards can also be awarded for the unlawful take of Game Fish and Shellfish and for Habitat Destruction.

* $1,000 Mountain Sheep, Mountain Goat and Moose 
* $500 Elk, Deer and Antelope 
* $300 Bear, Cougar and Wolf 
* $300 Habitat Destruction 
* $100 Upland Birds and Waterfowl 
* $100 Furbearers 

* $100 Game Fish and Shellfish 

How to Report a Wildlife and/or Habitat Law Violation or Suspicious Activity: 

TIP Hotline: 1-800-452-7888 or *OSP(677)

TIP E-Mail: TIP@state.or.us (Monitored M-F 8:00AM – 5:00PM)

A former U.S. Postal Service employee was sentenced to federal prison today for stealing mobile phones out of packages at the Portland postal sorting facility, announced U.S. Attorney Billy J. Williams.

Rico Alvarez, 24, was sentenced to one year and one day in federal prison and three years’ supervised release.

 “It is imperative that the community has confidence and trust in the integrity of the U.S. Postal Service” said United States Attorney Billy J. Williams “Thanks to the dedicated efforts of the U.S. Postal Service Office of Inspector General, this defendant is held to account for violating that trust.”

U.S. Postal Service Office of Inspector General, Western Area Field Office, Executive Special Agent-in-Charge John D. Masters said, “The U.S. Postal Service has a long and proud history dating back to 1775. The Postal Service employs over 630,000 men and woman who are dedicated public servants. Mr. Rico Alvarez willfully chose to violate that public trust and his duties. Today’s sentencing of Mr. Alvarez demonstrates that theft of U.S. Mail, committed by a Postal Service employee, will not be tolerated and carries serious consequences.”

According to court documents, beginning in about August, 2019, Alvarez, an employee of the United States Postal Service, began stealing smartphones placed into the mail for delivery to customers.  Over the course of the next three months, Alvarez stole more than 400 phones, by surreptitiously opening the box as it passed his mail sorting station, removing the phone, and then sending the empty package on for delivery to the intended recipient. On the day he was caught by Postal Inspectors, he had over a dozen stolen phones in his possession. When interviewed, Alvarez admitted to stealing high end, recently released, smartphones, which he subsequently sold for his own profit.

On June 25, 2020 Alvarez was charged by criminal information with Theft of Mail. He plead guilty to the charge on July 20, 2020. During sentencing, U.S. District Court Judge Michael Simon ordered Alvarez to pay $253,550 in restitution.

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