Dear friends & neighbors,
A few weeks ago I visited a COVID mass vaccination site and was incredibly encouraged by what I saw. But on other fronts, COVID news has been mixed. We’ve experienced outbreaks in our jail system, variants spreading throughout the U.S., and lengthy vaccine waitlists. Yet our COVID case trends in Multnomah County are heading in the right direction and we’re opening restaurants to indoor dining and lifting other restrictions. And hopes are growing that the vaccine supply could enable everyone to be vaccinated by the end of the summer. This mixed news can be confusing, which is why I want to take some time to provide an update on where things stand locally.
First, we've had over 145 inmates at Inverness Jail test positive for COVID. While our corrections health team has established a testing and quarantine program to try to limit the spread of COVID and while we’ve reduced the number of people incarcerated by more than a third, this outbreak is not surprising. And it’s exactly why Multnomah County has strongly advocated for vaccinating those who are incarcerated - because outbreaks are likely in such settings and we have a moral obligation to protect those in our custody.
Fortunately, the County received 17,000 vaccines from the state earlier this month and has prioritized vaccinating people in County custody, a process that is currently underway. We’ve also been lucky that only one of the inmates to contract COVID had to be hospitalized. Nevertheless, this outbreak shows how important it is to prioritize those most as risk.
It also begs the question, are new COVID variants circulating in our community? As has been well reported, there are now various strains of COVID spreading. While we’re learning a lot about these variants, they could be more contagious and more deadly than their predecessor, and the efficacy of the vaccines on these variants isn’t well known.
That makes it as important as ever to remain cautious, follow guidelines on social distancing, and continue to wear tightly fitting masks, or double up on masks. Our overall cases are down and, according to Governor Kate Brown’s criteria, that means that restaurants, bars and other establishments can now open for certain indoor activities. This is a positive step forward in reopening, but to avoid moving back into the extreme category and shuttering our business once more, we must continue to be vigilant in our safety practices.
Finally, the vaccine. On Monday morning I helped my dad schedule his COVID vaccine. We used the online chat tool at covidvaccine.oregon.gov to establish that he was eligible and get the link to schedule an appointment. Despite the fact that my Internet blipped out in the middle of the session because of the snowstorm, we managed to get through the process without too much difficulty to obtain an appointment in a couple of weeks.
But I don’t think that our experience will necessarily be shared by everyone. You need reliable Internet access to access the site (calling 211 is a great option to use if you don’t have that access). And the chat tool was only in English, a limiting factor for many of our vulnerable community members who have been hit hardest by COVID. Finally, I’ll admit that I actually practiced going through the chat tool before Monday morning just to make sure I knew what to expect. That is probably a carry-over from my tech days, but it’s not something most people, especially seniors who may not be as comfortable with technology, would do.
We need to make sure access to the vaccine is as widespread and easy to access as possible. Especially for our community members hardest hit by COVID and most marginalized. I was encouraged by the vaccination site I visited, which is coordinated by Multnomah County, the Red Cross, OHSU, and the Port of Portland and had many protocols in place to ensure it was accessible to people in our community with disabilities. The site has the capacity to administer 8,000 doses per day, and the sight of nurses getting shots into the arms of those most vulnerable was heartwarming, but put simply: we need more vaccines.
As more and more people in Oregon become eligible to get vaccinated, there currently aren’t enough vaccines for all the Oregonians and that will likely be the case in the weeks and months to come as eligibility expands faster than doses are distributed. This may be frustrating to many who want the vaccine as soon as they are eligible, but we must remain patient as we undertake an incredible effort to inoculate our community.
This situation is difficult. We have been cooped up for a long time. We see others getting the vaccine. We look ahead to family gatherings, school openings, concerts, sporting events, summer camps. But we aren’t at the end of the tunnel yet.
With more patience, understanding, and discipline though, we will be at the end of the tunnel, and perhaps, sooner than we think.
In solidarity and hopefulness,
Join the Conversation
America is still reckoning with its deep racist history, and the systemic, violent, and ongoing oppression faced by Black Americans in particular. While we have seen moments of sustained attention to racial inequality, we have yet to see a consistent, long lasting, and successful effort to truly root out racism and address its historical implications for Black Americans. Join me and an all-star panel of speakers to discuss how we maintain momentum and focus on the Black Lives Matter movement. Panelists include:
- Rukaiyah Adams, Chief Investment Officer, Meyer Memorial Trust
- Kali Ladd, Executive Director, KairosPDX
- Andrew Colas, President, Colas Construction
- John Goodwin, Major Gifts Officer, Portland Art Museum
Share your thoughts on the Burnside Bridge
Help decide the future of the iconic Burnside Bridge! There is less than one week left to fill out a survey to choose how the earthquake-resilient, new Burnside Bridge will look. Click here to learn more and share your input for this important remodeling project.
Art by Desmond, 5, a resident of north Portland, an aspiring civil engineer, and a bridge-enthusiast. Check out more of his art here!
What do the years 1979 and 2021 have in common? In both years, community members came together in committee to review Multnomah County’s charter and make recommendations to modernize the charter. And the recommendations can have enormous policy implications.
Every 6 years, we convene again and this year is no exception. The Office of Community Involvement is currently accepting applications for dedicated and civic-minded Multnomah County residents to sit on this committee and help proposed changes to our county’s charter. The deadline to apply is less than two weeks away, so apply today!
If you are interested in learning more about the Multnomah County charter review process and history, join me, Commissioner Susheela Jayapal, and Dani Bernstein, the Director of the Office of Community Involvement, on a panel for Back-to-Basics: Multnomah County Charter Review, an event by Next Up Oregon. I hope to see you there!
Preschool for All Job Opportunities
Multnomah County is recruiting applicants for three new positions in the Preschool & Early Learning Division that will be integral to the implementation of Preschool for All. We’re seeking applicants who are passionate about racial justice, skilled in their field, comfortable with change, and strong communicators. The positions are:
Senior Operational Manager: Responsible for the internal systems of the Preschool & Early Learning Division, including budgets, contracts, and an application and database system.
Communications & Outreach Coordinator: Will lead the communications and engagement strategies of the Preschool & Early Learning Division, including policy messaging, content development, and community outreach.
- Office Assistant Senior: Will manage the office operations of the Preschool & Early Learning Division and provide excellent customer service to families and community members.