Local News That Matters

UPDATES: Salem-Keizer board leaders cancel meeting over fears of violence

August 19, 2021 at 4:43pm

Test field burn planned Thursday afternoon in Silverton Hills

An irrigation system in an agricultural field off of 76th Avenue Northeast on Friday, March 12, 2021. (Amanda Loman/Salem Reporter)

If you spot smoke northeast of Salem Thursday evening, don't panic.

The Oregon Department of Agriculture is setting several test fires in the Silverton Hills, the agency said, with potential field burning to follow.

Test fires are set to determine if field burning can safety occur on the same day, agency officials said. Several hundreds acres were set on fire around 3:30 p.m. Thursday, with more field burning potentially to follow.

Up to 15,000 acres of field may be burned in the Willamette Valley each year under Oregon law. The agriculture department regulates the process, which can help control pests and weeds, increase seed yields and reduce the need for tilling soil and erosion.

Members of the public can learn more about field burning on the Department of Agriculture website or sign up to be notified of test fires here.

-Rachel Alexander

August 19, 2021 at 4:14pm

Data digest: Covid by the numbers for Aug. 19, 2021

A Marion County Health and Human Services Department graphic shows the overwhelming number of Covid patients at Salem Hospital this year have been unvaccinated against the virus.

With Covid cases and hospitalizations climbing in Oregon, Salem Reporter is keeping you informed of the latest numbers. Here’s our report for Thursday Aug. 19. 

New Covid cases reported in Marion County: 218

New Covid cases reported in Polk County: 67

Total Salem Hospital patients with Covid: 83 as of Thursday morning, an increase of one from Wednesday. Of those, 18 are in the intensive care unit, and 13 are on ventilators. Seventy-two of those in the hospital are not vaccinated against Covid.

Total Salem Hospital bed occupancy: 477 of 494 licensed beds in use

Total people hospitalized with Covid in Region 2 (Marion, Polk, Yamhill, Linn, Benton, Lincoln counties): 136, an increase of three from Wednesday. Of those, 32 are in the intensive care unit and 16 are on ventilators.

Total Region 2 hospital bed occupancy: 93 of 95 staffed ICU beds and 674 of 702 non-ICU beds in use

New Covid vaccines in Oregon: 3,972 new Covid vaccine doses administered on Aug. 18, including at least 2,567 first doses 

New Covid deaths reported: 19 in Oregon. The Oregon Health Authority had not yet published information about counties of residence or other demographics as of 4 p.m. Thursday.

Source: Oregon Health Authority, Salem Health

Correction: This article initially listed the total number of both confirmed and suspected Covid patients in Region 2 hospitals, rather than only those had tested positive for Covid. We have updated the number for consistency with our other daily reports. Salem Reporter regrets the error.

-Saphara Harrell

August 19, 2021 at 1:51pm

Salem-Keizer board cancels meeting over concerns of clashes between protesters

Osvaldo Avila, Salem-Keizer School Board director, is sworn in at a July 13, 2021 meeting (Rachel Alexander/Salem Reporter)

Leaders of the Salem-Keizer School Board cancelled a scheduled Aug. 24 meeting after a warning from the district’s security director that planned protests and counterprotests could turn violent, board Chair Osvaldo Avila said.

Avila and Vice Chair Ashley Carson Cottingham announced the cancellation Wednesday, saying it was due to “ongoing public safety concerns in our community.” 

The board had been scheduled to visit Chemeketa Community College for a work session to visit the college’s new agricultural complex and learn about the redesign of the district’s alternative education program through a partnership with the college.

But Avila said the district’s security team saw posts on social media that raised concerns the meeting might draw anti-mask protesters and counter protesters, leading to the type of street clashes Salem has seen outside the Capitol and in other venues over the past year.

“We don’t have the capacity to be able to mitigate a situation,” Avila said, referring to the district’s security workforce.

Avila said he and Carson Cottingham discussed the situation with Superintendent Christy Perry and Chris Baldridge, the district’s director of safety and risk management, before deciding to cancel the meeting.

The decision came after a heated school board meeting on Aug. 10 where Avila twice stopped public testimony to issue warnings about civility and decorum as comments grew heated about a statewide mandate that students wear masks in schools in the fall. 

A large group of parents opposed to masking in schools attended the meeting to speak against the policy, which was implemented by Gov. Kate Brown, while a group of students and young people spoke in favor of requiring masks.

The first time, Avila spoke after a young woman testified objecting to the board “letting these white people in (to the meeting) without their masks.” The meeting took place three days before a statewide mask mandate went into effect.

The second time, Avila called a recess after another commenter referred to themselves with gender neutral pronouns, causing a small outburst in the audience. Avila told Salem Reporter he didn’t hear what audience members said, but several witnesses told him audience members directed transphobic comments at the speaker.

“We are seeing a continual call in our community to create disruption to our board and our schools with divisiveness that has no place in the lives of our students. At our last board meeting, we witnessed disrespect, racial and transphobic comments, and a disregard for health and safety protocols. We believe our communities of Salem and Keizer are better than this, and board leadership does not want any person to be in an environment where they will not feel safe or welcome,” Avila and Carson Cottingham said in a statement announcing the meeting cancellation.

Avila said the community needs to focus on safely returning kids to full-time school in-person.

“Some adults, by their words and actions, are teaching children to be irresponsible during a global health pandemic, disrespecting the process of democracy through grossly defiant statements and actions that will have lasting effects. Instead, we should create an environment where children learn to participate civically and economically as they move into adulthood,” he said in a statement Thursday.

-Rachel Alexander