April 7, 2020
Latest News And Resources On COVID-19
Dear friends and neighbors,
We’re entering our third week under Governor Brown’s stay home order. Sometimes it feels as if it has been longer, and at other times, I look back and wonder where March went.
Social Distancing is Working in Oregon
This is really good news, and it comes with an enormous caveat. The state has estimated that current social distancing measures have reduced transmission of coronavirus by 50% to 70%. If we’re able to maintain this, our hospital systems should be able to handle the expected volume of COVID-19 cases (this, you’ll remember, is the purpose of “flattening the curve”).
That if is a big one. These are just projections. They're only as good as the assumptions they rest on, and one of those assumptions is continued observance of social distancing. This includes the newest guidelines from the CDC -- recommending that everyone wear a face covering when out in closed environments such as grocery stores and workplaces. We at Multnomah County are also acting on this recommendation, by sourcing face coverings for all our employees who continue to report to work, including in our shelters.
Here's an interactive dashboard that Multnomah County and our neighboring counties have put together. It provides statistics about case counts, demographics, and more. One thing I noted: the number of hospitalizations of people in their 40s and 50s is greater than that for people in their 60s, 70s, and 80s combined. There’s a belief in some parts on the social media sphere that a more “surgical” approach to social distancing, where we only isolated “older” folks and those with serious medical conditions, would be sufficient. These statistics suggest otherwise. We all need to stay the course.
Unemployment Insurance Applications
The state Employment Department usually receives about 5,000 applications for unemployment insurance per week. For the week of March 13, they received almost 77,000 applications. As of April 1st, they had processed almost 22,000 of those, but continue to receive tens of thousands of new applications daily. Their workload has been compounded by needing to incorporate the federal CARES act, which expands unemployment benefits. We’re told that they have doubled their staff and added shifts in order to increase capacity. Nevertheless, we know that applicants are experiencing dropped online applications and incredibly long wait times for follow-up phone calls. The department asks that applicants file on-line, and not call to check on status; they will call you. Their resource page is here.
Relief Needed for Undocumented Workers
There's one group that has received no relief from the federal COVID packages, and that's undocumented workers. These workers grow our food, put it on our tables, keep our manufacturing and construction industries going. Their families include documented residents and American citizens. They will be just as affected by the economic crash as everyone else, but they don't qualify for unemployment benefits, and their jobs are low-wage jobs that don't allow savings to cushion the blow. I'm advocating for the state to step in and provide wage replacement equivalent to unemployment insurance for these workers. Without it, the economic, health, education, and social consequences will be felt by our entire community.
Eviction Moratoriums and Mortgage Forbearance
The Governor has now announced a commercial eviction moratorium. This is in addition to previously announced state, Portland, and Multnomah County residential eviction moratoriums.
If you have questions about any of these, please get in touch. We’re hearing that many tenants - especially those most vulnerable, who may not even know these moratoriums are in place - are being threatened with eviction. We continue to work on getting the word out.
In addition, federal relief measures allow homeowners with federally backed mortgages to delay making mortgage payments for a year. For more detail on this option, see this article.
Business and Nonprofit Resources
Oregon’s economy -- and that of the Metro region -- depends on its small businesses. And small businesses are in dire straits. In recognition of that, there have been a variety of relief efforts rolled out at the federal, state, and local levels. The state has put together this Small Business Resource Navigator that pulls together many of these resources.
The CARES Act is the most significant potential resource, but much about how it will be implemented remains uncertain. I’ve heard from small business owners who may fall into gaps in the way the Payroll Protection Program (provides forgivable loans to businesses that retain or rehire their employees) works; we’re communicating these issues to our Congressional delegation, so if you’re experiencing them, please let me know. (And contact the delegation yourself, as well.) This is the clearest explanation of the PPP that I’ve found.
An important note -- nonprofit organizations also qualify for the PPP and other small business relief. Nonprofits are having to retool their service models to comply with social distancing requirements and dealing with employees and clients who are under enormous stress. Most of them depend on private fundraising for revenue (and many have had to cancel fundraising events scheduled for spring and summer), and those revenue streams have slowed to a trickle, leaving many in very difficult financial straits.
Multnomah County depends on nonprofit partners to provide essential services, and we’re doing everything we can to work with those partners -- to be flexible about service delivery and deadlines, and to shore up financial viability. We need our partners to come through this emergency with us. If you can, please donate to your favorite nonprofits -- they are a vital part of our social safety net.
All the resources linked to above and more can also be found on my webpage.
How We’re Coping
We all crave connection, and being cut off from our usual ways of getting it exacerbates the stress and anxiety of being in the midst of a global pandemic. The County has pulled together some mental health tips and resources, which you can find here. We’re all discovering that technology can help, with virtual social hours (one of my neighborhood wine bars, Blackbird, is hosting virtual wine tastings); FaceBook singalongs (thank you to whoever invited me to one last week); games and activities for kids (just found this delightful program, Lunch Doodles With Mo); and online movies and performances of all kinds (check out Literary Arts’ community page, which links to archived lectures from more than 20 years of Portland Arts & Lectures, weekly writing prompts for stay-at-home writers, book suggestions for high-schoolers, and more).
For my part, I feel fortunate to have work I can do from home, and conscious of the fact that not everyone has that luxury. I’m forcing myself to step away from my desk to walk my dog; keeping in touch with my children, my parents in India, and friends, through FaceTime, Skype, and even the occasional snail mail; and trying to read things other than COVID-related news every once in a while (just got a bag of books delivered from Broadway Books).
Let’s keep on keeping on, together.