Digest: Wednesday, March 9, 2022

Oregon’s expiring COVID emergency declarations

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued new guidance in February suggesting that most healthy adults can reduce wearing masks in many situations. They also released new metrics for assessing risks in specific communities. The new metrics shift the CDC from looking at how COVID is actually spreading to how many hospital beds are available for COVID patients. Their guidance is based on an assumption that individuals are responsible for stopping the spread of COVID through decisions like masking and vaccination.

As a result of the CDC’s new metrics, Governor Kate Brown has announced that Oregon’s state of emergency for COVID will end April 1, 2022. A variety of other measures, such as the state mask mandate and the vaccine mandate for many state employees, will be ending in March and April. Masks will remain required on TriMet through at least March 18, as public transit is overseen by the U.S. Transportation Security Administration, rather than local government.

Simply declaring an emergency is over doesn’t actually end an emergency, of course. More people died from COVID last Friday than died due to Hurricane Katrina. At the time of writing this, even the CDC listed all but four of Oregon’s counties as having substantial or high levels of community transmission of COVID. A new variant based on Omicron, known as Omicron BA.2, is also circulating both globally and in the U.S.

This move also puts people with chronic illnesses and disabilities at risk, far beyond the limited list of conditions the CDC considers immunocompromisingMore than a quarter of all people in the U.S. have a disability that is recognized more broadly by the CDC. That number is rising, as well, as more than half of all COVID survivors have shown at least some symptoms of Long COVID. In addition to increased health risks, people face the following as mandates around masking and vaccines lift:

  • Increased financial costs for buying masks and tests, as well as relying on delivery services as stores eliminate their own masking requirements
  • Continued delays and higher risks when accessing medical care beyond COVID treatment
  • Difficulty accessing necessary booster shots
  • Reduced access to employment opportunities as companies end remote work programs While these issues hit people from marginalized communities the hardest, even people currently in perfect health will likely see ripples as impacts spread.

Under a state of emergency, Oregon’s governor and other elected officials have more power. They can relax requirements around who is allowed to provide medical care or teach in schools. They can also access more funds for Oregon residents through federal disaster relief funds. Households eligible for SNAP, for instance, receive extra money for food under an emergency declaration. The Oregon Department of Human Services has confirmed that emergency SNAP benefits will continue through the end of March, but there’s no official word yet on what will happen in April — even though the department continues to receive unprecedented numbers of applications for SNAP and other assistance.

Local governments, including counties and cities, also put their own states of emergency in place for COVID. Multnomah County’s current state of emergency for COVID is currently scheduled to end on March 31. Assuming that the emergency order is allowed to expire, the county will no longer be able to provide support for certain vaccination events, among other returning constraints. Multnomah County, as well as the City of Portland, has declared several winter weather emergencies in the past four months. Portland also has a declared state of emergency for the housing crisis. Since early last month, Ted Wheeler has issued multiple emergency declarations which are effectively criminalizing poverty and houselessness in the city, rather than taking effective action.

As mayor and police commissioner, Wheeler already had outsized power, but he’s using the state of emergency to broaden the power of the mayor’s office even as the Portland City Charter Review Commission discusses ways to spread access to power in city government.

Legal complications continue around resetting clocks

We’re all resetting our clocks this weekend, but there’s actually a law in place to keep most of Oregon on daylight saving time year round. In 2019, the Oregon legislature passed a bill to eliminate the time change, which Governor Kate Brown then signed. Malheur County got an exemption because that county opted to join the Mountain Time Zone in 1923 and has been an hour off the rest of the state ever since. Similarly, when Oregon adopted daylight saving time through a 1962 ballot measure, the measure was written to only cover those parts of Oregon in the Pacific Time Zone. Oregon had previously used daylight saving time sporadically, just like the rest of the U.S.

What’s the hold up in eliminating the time change for 35 of Oregon’s 36 counties? The law was written to only take effect when all three states in the Pacific Time Zone agree to make the switch together. Oregon is obviously on board. Washington passed a similar law in 2019. California, however, hasn’t yet committed — voters supported an effort there in 2018, but legislators have yet to actually pass a bill on the matter. Some federal action may also be necessary to approve the change. Oregon’s law set a deadline for California’s legislators. They have until November 30, 2029 to act or Oregon’s law will essentially cancel itself. There are other legislative options available to make the switch, as Arizona and Hawaii have shown, but those strategies would likely require Oregon to commit to standard time instead of daylight saving time.

Details lacking on the killing of Portland police’s latest victim

Portland police officers Zachary Kenney and Reynaldo Guevara shot and killed Joel Michael Arevalo in the Southwest Hills neighborhood of Portland on February 19. The Portland Police Bureau has shared minimal details about the killing (even though they’ve shared photos, videos, and other details within 48 hours of past killings, such as when Portland police shot and killed Michael Townsend in June 2021). In PPB’s death incident report, officers suggested that Arevalo had fired shots at a friend, leading the officers to issue commands to Arevalo and then shoot him.

As neighbors, family, and friends have shared information about Arevalo and his death with reporters and on social media, the few details PPB has shared seem far from reliable. Several people sharing information have done so anonymously out of fear of retaliation.

Police arrived at the condo complex in Southwest Hills after reports of shots fired and blocked off an area with a controlled perimeter. They also implemented a ‘take shelter’ order, although several residents report not knowing about the order. One resident, Jacob Driscoll, reported seeing a man with a gun in the area. Driscoll later told reporters that Arevalo’s appearance did not match that of the person he had seen. Arevalo had been at the condo complex prior to police arriving. While the area was cordoned off, Arevalo couldn’t leave. He spoke to several complex residents, mentioning that he’d been there to visit a friend and was waiting to leave. Arevalo spoke to his brother, Ryan, twice by phone that evening and was calm and unworried, even chatting about the weather. Ryan noted that his brother mentioned being unable to reach the home of a friend he was staying with because of the police presence. Photos taken by neighbors suggest that police saw and interacted with Arevalo for a substantial period of time before escalating into violence. There are currently no known witnesses to the shooting.

Kenney and Guevara are on paid administrative leave. The Multnomah County District Attorney’s Office will convene a grand jury to assess the legality of the officers’ actions.

By Thursday Bram

Thursday Bram founded PDX.Vote after making numerous zines, newsletters, and other media about politics in Portland, Oregon. Thursday has also written for publications ranging from Autostraddle.com to Entrepreneur Magazine. You can find more of Thursday's work at ThursdayBram.com.