Les Zaitz, Salem Reporter editor

Tough times are ahead for Salem.

We go into the holiday season as a community profoundly changed, and more so with Gov. Kate Brown’s dire move on Friday.

At Salem Reporter, we’re going to do all we can to help you make sense of what’s coming. In a moment, I’ll share how you can help.

We know readers are exhausted with this subject. Trust me. Our reporters too are weary of yet another Covid surge, yet another business closing, yet another death to report.

The governor’s declaration last week is alarming on several fronts. Her announcement only enforces what headlines and government websites have been chronicling – Covid is running more rampant than ever through our beloved state and community. We’re not unique. This is happening from coast to coast.

The medical costs are likely to be profound. Our local hospitals are so far capable of handling the spiking number of critically ill people. Don’t be surprised, though, if Salem Hospital and Santiam Hospital find themselves in the unnerving circumstance already unfolding in Portland.

The economic costs of Brown’s actions are profound as well. Restaurants, those that managed to stay alive in recent months, again go dark, banned from serving guests at a table. Gyms and fitness outfits must close. Retailers must limit traffic.

That means less income for businesses. That also means they will have need of fewer employees. Expect the unemployment rolls to grow – and little extra government support left to help people get by.

No one should underestimate how these forces will play out in Salem. At Salem Reporter, we’re going to be guided by our understanding of your need for credible, clear information. Here’s what our reporting staff will bear in mind.

We will focus on people. General accounts of “the community” or “businesses” or “health agencies” won’t cut it for us. The impacts here now and those coming mean a change in your life.

Our team will find and share accounts of the people whose prime duty trying to check this virus. That means we won’t talk about impersonal government agencies. We’ll talk about those contact tracers and health care analysts working tirelessly to help us through this. We’ll work to introduce you to those who are charged with the medical challenge of treating patients and tell you what they are seeing – and how they are coping.

We’ll try as best we can to report on those who have suffered from the virus. That means reporting accounts of Salem residents willing to share with the community the sometime harrowing course of treatment to stay alive. That means we’ll share, as families are willing, the stories of those lost to Covid, to be sure they are more than just a name or cold numbers on a government list.

And we won’t forget those who wait on tables, work you through your gym routine, teach your children and drive your buses. It’s too easy to sideline those who have lost their jobs, to count each unemployed person as just a statistic. We want to share how those lives have become upended, what help they need, what help has been promised but not yet delivered.

A second focus of our coverage is the Salem economy. Every time a business shuts off the lights and locks the door, a ripple hits the town. Think of a single restaurant closing or greatly reducing service. The owner is out of income. Employees are out of work. A string of vendors dependent on sales to the restaurant lose. The restaurant isn’t buying wine produced here in the Willamette Valley. It’s not buying beef raised on Oregon ranches. And it’s not getting produce that came from the fields around Salem. We’ll show the interlinked results as our economy stumbles through the weeks ahead.

We want to scour the community for stories of resilience in business. Since March, we’ve reported on a handful of companies where leaders adapted and kept going. Such accounts provide some hope for the rest of us – that not all is lost. We will work even harder to find those souls, especially those with the courage to open up a business in these times.

And we want to report on one of the biggest economic players for Salem – government. With the economy dimming once again, tax collections and government fees that sustain public services can be expected to drop. In Salem, that could mean even more people losing their jobs, more vendors losing business. We don’t want those to be invisible impacts on your community.

Finally, we understand that just stacking number on top of number can become meaningless to you. In recent days, you’ve absorbed one account after another about record numbers of Covid cases in Oregon. At Salem Reporter, we intend not to just dump the latest stats on you and wish you luck figuring out what they mean. We’ll work hard to use the numbers to tell the story of what’s happening with the coronavirus in the Salem area. We want to be clear and accurate at every point.

We can’t do this alone. You can help:

QUESTIONS: We’re pretty skilled at asking questions but readers always impress me with what they want to know. Send me your questions.

PEOPLE: Does your family have someone who went through Covid treatment? Did someone you know succumb to the virus? We’re interested in talking – with sensitivity – to those who want to share their accounts with the community to help inform others honestly about the virus.

HEALTH TREATMENT: We are determined to give voice to those in the medical profession – the doctors, the nurses, the CNAs, and more. Allow us to get your message to the community about what you’re dealing with, what you want Salem residents to do differently.

HEROES: Who’s pulling more than their share of duty? Who is finding a way to make life less bleak? Which nonprofits have upended their normal work to adjust and serve new needs? Who in business has found a way to keep people on the job with creative changes?

WHAT’S WRONG: People in government, health care and business all are working with new and changing rules and conditions. Let’s cut them some slack. But there are times when the spotlight of accountability needs to be directed. We’re not looking to nitpick, but Salem Reporter’s skilled reporters can dive in if someone is taking advantage of circumstances for their benefit – or shirking their duties to the community.

At Salem Reporter, we hold a deep commitment to help the community through this time. We can do that best providing local reporting you can trust. We won’t put a shiny gloss on bad news but we’ll also look for ways to find hope and encouragement that we all are so hungry for.

Reach Editor Les Zaitz by email at [email protected]

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