Local News That Matters

UPDATES: Oregon OSHA sets new rules for wildfire smoke, heat

August 3, 2021 at 5:13pm

Oregon schools can be fined $500 per day for violating mask requirement under new rule

Fourth grade teacher Stephanie Madison works with student Jacob Class on the first day back to in-person school for fourth and fifth grade students at Myers Elementary School on Wednesday, March 17, 2021. (Amanda Loman/Salem Reporter)

Oregon schools that fail to enforce mask-wearing rules for employees and students could be fined up to $500 per day, the Oregon Department of Education and Oregon Health Authority said Tuesday.

Teachers could also face penalties for working umasked, the agency said, though it did not detail specific sanctions.

State officials will begin enforcing the mask rule Aug. 12.

The education department released guidelines Tuesday afternoon detailing the rules governing mask wearing at K-12 schools across the state. The announcement comes after Gov. Kate Brown on July 29 ordered masks be worn at all Oregon K-12 schools for the 2021-22 school year. She directed state agencies to draft specific policy.

The public announcement came after a call between state education officials and school administrators Monday where many superintendents objected to the loss of local control.

Education officials said a statewide mandate is needed because of surging rates of new Covid infections across Oregon, largely among people who have not been vaccinated against the virus. They said schools need a statewide rule because children are required by law to attend, unlike other public settings Oregonians can avoid if they're fearful of contracting Covid.

Children under age 12 cannot be vaccinated against Covid, meaning virtually all elementary school students are unvaccinated.

The Oregon Health Authority will review the need for a mask mandate in schools at least monthly, the rule says.

Salem-Keizer School District administrators are holding informational sessions with time to answer questions about Covid protocols and the fall return to school on Aug. 4 and 6 on Zoom from 6-7 p.m. More information and links to join the meetings are available on the district website.

This article was updated to clarify that enforcement of the mask rule begins Aug. 12.

-Rachel Alexander

August 3, 2021 at 4:20pm

Survey: Salem rates ‘poor’ or ‘failing’ for discrimination

A community survey created by Salem’s Human Rights Commission and Western Oregon University found that more than half of respondents have experienced discrimination in the city.

Half of those incidents were in the past three months, the survey showed. The most common reasons for discrimination were housing status, gender and race.

Residents were surveyed between May 5 and 21, 2021. The city released results Tuesday.

About a quarter of those who responded rated Salem as "poor: quite a bit of discrimination” and a third said it was "failing: a lot of discrimination.”

The Human Rights Commission sponsored the survey for the third time since 2017 and received nearly four times the responses this year – 835.

Of those, 247 respondents came through the City of Salem's Facebook page, 222 came through a community organization, 87 came through friends or family, and 209 of Salem's unsheltered residents filled out paper surveys collected by students and community volunteers.

Read the full survey responses. Check back with Salem Reporter Wednesday for a more detailed story on the survey.

-Saphara Harrell

August 3, 2021 at 1:25pm

AGENDA: Marion County commissioners to consider wastewater disposal contracts

The Marion County Board of Commissioners meets Wednesday to consider several contracts to dispose of wastewater and an agreement to administer a foodborne illness prevention program.


Commissioners will consider approving two $5.6 million contracts to transport and dispose of leachate wastewater from the ash landfill located at the North Marion Recycling and Transfer Station through June 30, 2026.

The contracts are with Patriot Environmental Services and Finley Buttes Limited Partnership.

They will also consider a $3 million contract with River City Environmental, Inc. for the same disposal service.

The board will consider approving a $189,600 contract with A WorkSAFE Services, Inc. for urinalysis collection for the Marion County 2021-2023 Specialty Court Programs.

They will also consider approving an agreement with the Oregon Health Authority to administer the Foodborne Illness Prevention Program through June 30, 2023. 

Meeting details: The commissioners meet at 9 a.m. Wednesday in the Senator Hearing Room at 555 Court Street N.E. The meeting is streamed live on YouTube

-Saphara Harrell

August 3, 2021 at 11:15am

Union Street entrance to Riverfront Park closes Friday for railroad repairs

(Amanda Loman/Salem Reporter)

The Union Street entrance to Riverfront Park will be closed from Friday, Aug. 6 to Tuesday, Aug. 10 while Portland & Western Pacific Railroad repairs the railroad tracks.

Riverfront Park and its attractions including Salem’s Riverfront Carousel, Gilbert Carousel, Gilbert House Children’s Museum, the Peter Courtney Minto Island Bridge, and the Union Street Railroad Bridge will remain open during the road closure.

Visitors can access the park through the State Street entrance or by detouring on Northeast Division Street and taking the alleyway to Southeast Water Street. Trevor Smith, city of Salem spokesman, said there will be detour signs up letting drivers know where to go.

The Union Street entrance will reopen at noon on Aug. 10. 

-Saphara Harrell

August 3, 2021 at 10:31am

Oregon employers must provide respirators for work in smoky air under new rules

A sprinkler waters a field amidst wildfire smoke in Aumsville on Tuesday, September 8. (Amanda Loman/Salem Reporter)

Oregon’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration moved on Monday to employ new rules aimed at protecting workers against two pressing effects of climate change: heat and wildfire smoke.

Farmworker unions and advocacy groups have long pushed for such protections as Oregon summers have grown hotter and smokier in recent years. Currently, Marion and Polk counties have about 16,600 farm workers as of July according to Pineros y Campesinos Unidos del Noroeste, Oregon's Woodburn-based farmworker union.

In terms of wildfire protection, employers will have to provide facepiece respirators for workers as well as training on how to properly wear them when the air index quality reaches or exceeds a measurement of 101, meaning air is unhealthy for sensitive groups. 

Employers will also be required to provide training on the potential health effects of wildfire smoke, symptoms of exposure, how to operate air quality monitoring devices, emergency response procedures and the employee’s right to report health issues and to obtain medical treatment without concern of retaliation. 

OSHA’s announcement included guidance that mandated whenever feasible, employers must use administrative and engineering controls to combat the impact of wildfire smoke such as relocating workers to another outdoor location with better air quality or changing work schedules.

To protect workers against heat-related dangers, employers must provide cooling areas in provided housing. If the room where people sleep is unable to maintain a temperature of 78 degrees or less, employers must provide an area for those individuals to cool off. Those areas must be able to accommodate at least 50% of the occupants at a time. 

Direct sunlight into rooms must also be taken into consideration and no-cost fans and thermometers must be provided. 

Both new rules go into effect August 9 and remain in effect for 180 days. 

“These rules underscore our ongoing work to bolster Oregon’s ability to protect workers from extraordinary hazards that have been exacerbated by climate change,” said Andrew Stolfi, director of the Oregon Department of Consumer and Business Services, which includes Oregon OSHA. “Wildfire smoke and extreme heat continue to pose threats to our communities. Those threats are not going away. And that is why we must act.”

According to Oregon OSHA, the rules reflect input from labor and employer stakeholders and come after last fall’s wildfires that ripped through Oregon and a heat-related death of a farm worker in St. Paul.

Emergency heat rules were put in place following 38-year-old Sebastian Francisco Perez’s death in June including a requirement for employers to provide shade, cold water and periods of rest for workers.

-Caitlyn May