Local News That Matters

UPDATES: Oregon shortens quarantine period for child care

February 2, 2022 at 4:56pm

Data digest: Covid by the numbers for Feb. 2, 2022

Salem Hospital on Tuesday, Aug. 17, 2021. (Amanda Loman/Salem Reporter)

As Covid hospitalizations remain high due to the omicron variant, Salem Reporter is again publishing case and hospitalization information daily. Here’s our report for Wednesday, Feb. 2. 

Total Salem Hospital patients with Covid: 114 as of Wednesday morning, an increase of one from Tuesday.   

Of those, 14 are in the intensive care unit, and four are on ventilators.

Sixty-seven of those in the hospital are not vaccinated against Covid, and 47 are vaccinated.

Salem Health does not consistently report the number of patients who have received a booster vaccine dose because of the difficulty tracking whether patients are eligible for a booster in real time, spokeswoman Lisa Wood said. The vaccinated patient count includes any patient who has received at least two doses of a Moderna or Pfizer vaccine, or the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

Total Salem Hospital bed occupancy: 515 patients; the hospital is licensed for 494 beds.

Total people hospitalized with Covid in Region 2 (Marion, Polk, Yamhill, Linn, Benton, Lincoln counties): 195. Of those, 27 are in the intensive care unit and seven are on ventilators.

Total Region 2 hospital bed occupancy: 82 of 86 staffed ICU beds and 555 of 561 non-ICU beds in use. 

New Covid cases reported in Marion County: 561

New Covid cases reported in Polk County: 144

New Covid deaths reported: 39 in Oregon

-Saphara Harrell

February 2, 2022 at 2:46pm

Travel Salem buys former Chase Bank for new office

Angie Onyewuchi, president of Travel Salem, shares numbers showing increasing tourism in the capital city. She addressed a crowd at the Kroc Center on Thursday, Nov. 21. (Mary Louise VanNatta/Special to Salem Reporter)

Travel Salem’s visitor center is temporarily moving to the lobby of The Grand Hotel as the tourism group moves into a new location in downtown Salem.

The nonprofit bought the former Chase Bank building at 630 Center St. N.E. and hope to move into it in May or June following renovations.  

The temporary visitor center will be staffed and open Monday through Friday 9 a.m. - 5 p.m. at 201 Liberty St. SE. 

“The new location will provide a spacious Visitor Center and exhibit space; the old bank teller window will be used for drive-thru visitor assistance; and rotating videos of the region will be showcased in the designated theater area,” a news release about the move said.  

The nonprofit plans to rent out a portion of the 19,000 square foot building as office space for businesses and organizations. Nonprofits will also be able to reserve a meeting room.  

Angie Onyewuchi, CEO of Travel Salem, said once the mortgage is paid off the nonprofit will invest that money into programs that drive tourism.

“Travel Salem has been renting office space since our inception in 1984, housed in beautiful and iconic locations such as Willamette Heritage Center, the historic Grand Theatre, and the Capitol Tower in the heart of downtown. With the new headquarters building, the board of directors has taken a visionary step to invest in the future of the organization and to innovatively deliver our mission to create positive impact for the communities we serve,” she said in a prepared statement.

Jake Bryant, Travel Salem’s board chair, said the building purchase reflects the growth of local tourism, noting last summer’s IRONMAN competition.  

“Tourism is one of the state’s largest industries, and visitors to the region generate $638 million per year, pre-COVID, and support 7,000 jobs. Travel Salem’s marketing efforts keep our destination top-of-mind with consumers and continue to drive leisure, group, and sports business to the region,” he said in a statement. 

-Saphara Harrell

February 2, 2022 at 9:44am

Gov. Brown appoints two judges to Marion County Circuit Court

(Caleb Wolf/Special to Salem Reporter)

Gov. Kate Brown announced Wednesday she will will appoint two judges to fill vacancies in the Marion County Circuit Court.

Jennifer Gardiner, a hearings referee in Marion County, will fill the vacancy left after circuit Judge Cheryl Pellegrini's retirement. Erious Johnson, a Salem-based discrimination and civil rights attorney in private practice, will fill the vacancy created after circuit Judge Susan Tripp retired, according to a news release. Both retirements took effect Oct. 31.

Gardiner's and Johnson's appointments were effective Wednesday morning.

“Both of these talented individuals bring deep legal experience to the bench, as well as important perspectives on the different ways judges can work to improve access to justice and reduce systemic barriers in our legal system,” Brown wrote in the news release. “I am excited to see them take their places on the Marion County bench.”

Gardiner, born in Klamath Falls, graduated from Stanford University in 1994 before working as a staff and legislative assistant for Congressman Esteban Torres in California. She earn a law degree from the University of Notre Dame Law School in 2000 and then worked for two years as a litigation associate for a San Francisco-based law firm before moving to Oregon. She was a Yamhill County deputy district attorney for six years, a senior assistant attorney general at the Oregon Department of Justice's Criminal Justice Division for a year, and a deputy district attorney in Marion County for seven years.

Gardiner has been a hearing referee for thousands of cases in Marion County since 2018. She oversees a treatment court which helps get pregnant mothers with histories of drug addiction get connected with services "to help support healthy pregnancies," the news release said. She also serves on the bench's LGBTQ Workgroup and the State Family Law Advisory Committee, is a Willamette Law student mentor and has been a mock trial team Instructor at West Salem High School. She is a member of the Marion County Bar Association, the local Inn of Court and Oregon Women Lawyers, and has given training presentations to the Oregon Department of Justice, Marion County Sheriff’s Office, and Salem and Keizer police departments. 

Johnson, who grew up in Queens, New York, graduated from the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in 1991 and earned a law degree with honors from Howard University School of Law in 2002. He worked for two years as a litigation associate at a New York law firm and four years as a litigator and trial attorney in the New York City Law Department's torts division, the release said.

Johnson clerked for the New York State Supreme Court for around three years and then moved Salem, his wife's hometown, and opening a solo practice. He worked for three years as the justice department's civil rights director before returning to his private practice in 2017, "doing primarily criminal defense and plaintiff-side civil rights cases," according to the news release. Johnson was also chief legislative director for Rep. Janelle Bynum, D-Happy Valley, for the 2018 legislative session.

Johnson mentors law students, volunteers for the classroom law project, is a volunteer fee arbitrator through the Oregon State Bar and "a frequent speaker and writer on topics related to civil rights," the news release said. He is a member of the Willamette Valley American Inn of Court, Marion County Bar Association, Oregon Criminal Defense Lawyers Association, Marion County Association of Defenders and OSB board of delegates. He is a board member for the Oregon Trial Lawyers Association and co-chair of its civil rights section.

"He lives with his wife in Salem, where in their spare time they raise chickens," the news release said.

-Ardeshir Tabrizian

February 2, 2022 at 9:05am

Oregon cuts child care quarantine length - if kids wear masks

Student desks at a Salem preschool program (Amanda Loman/Salem Reporter)

Kids and employees exposed to Covid in a daycare or preschool only need to quarantine for five days if everyone consistently wears masks, Oregon's Early Learning Division announced Tuesday.

The change, which comes from the division and the Oregon Health Authority, cuts in half the previously required 10-day quarantine period.

“We know the 10-day period has been difficult for families to manage and has affected business operations for providers,” said Oregon Early Learning System Director Alyssa Chatterjee in a statement. “This adjustment should give greater flexibility to help respond to COVID-19 cases in care, while still keeping a focus on safety.”

Oregon requires children age five and older to wear masks while in school or child care, and "strongly recommends" masks for children age two and up. Child care providers can only shorten the quarantine period if everyone in a classroom consistently wears masks, the early learning announcement said.

“Protection through a COVID-19 vaccine is not yet available for the youngest children,” said Oregon Health Authority Health Officer and State Epidemiologist Dr. Dean Sidelinger in a statement. “While masks are recommended for all individuals two years old and up, there are child care sites where children under age five do not wear masks."

There's been a growing push by some doctors and parents in recent weeks to rethink requiring masks for young children, who remain less likely to contract Covid or become seriously ill from it.

Oregon's top health officer said masks remain important for mitigating the spread of Covid.

“The nature of interactions in these settings results in prolonged and often close contact. Masking helps to decrease the risk of spread and allow for a shorter return after illness or exposure into these settings with low rates of vaccination overall, especially with the high amounts of community spread throughout Oregon,” Sidelinger said.

-Rachel Alexander