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Douglas County commissioners support business reopening plan

Just days before state legislators are scheduled to meet to discuss how to spend up to $800 million in coronavirus relief funding, the Douglas County Board of Commissioners on Thursday issued a call to arms in support of local businesses hit hard by COVID-19.

The board asked local and state officials, as well as local chambers of commerce, city councils and business leaders to rally behind a business reopening plan recently submitted to Gov. Kate Brown and state lawmakers by the Oregon State Chamber of Commerce.

“As fellow citizens and business owners, we share in the frustration that our local businesses, families and residents are dealing with,” Douglas County Commissioner Tom Kress said in a news release. “The last nine months have been challenging to say the least, and now more than ever before our local businesses need your support, and a united front backing them with a solid, productive plan that will provide relief and a future for their livelihoods. Please consider joining us in supporting the plan presented by the OSCC.”

The Oregon State Chamber of Commerce issued its “Business Reopen Plan” two weeks ago.

“The Oregon State Chamber of Commerce is stating as clearly and plainly as possible: Local businesses need to be made whole, and they need to be able to re-open for business now,” the plan states.

The plan, the state chamber said, is based on the fact that businesses have acted responsibly to the community and to the COVID-19 guidance coming from the state; local businesses deserve the same consideration as large corporations; the remedies being offered by the state to small business are “completely inadequate;” and shutdowns are sending workers into “a failed state unemployment system” that has been unable to deliver timely benefits.

“OSCC is calling on Governor Brown and lawmakers to give local businesses and their employees the same consideration given to others during the COVID-19 pandemic,” the group said. “Local businesses and their employees have shouldered the largest costs imposed by state government and now is the time to help them recover.”

To do that, the Oregon State Chamber of Commerce and its members are calling for the following:

  • The immediate reopening of all Oregon businesses.
  • Substantial remedies to local businesses that have been forced to shut down through no fault of their own, since the state “has deprived these businesses and employees of their livelihoods.”
  • A $75 million “Hospitality Relief Fund” dedicated to helping Oregon’s restaurants and hospitality businesses recover.
  • A moratorium on new or increased taxes and fees at the state and local level.
  • A short-term tax credit for property owners willing to waive debt for commercial tenants that are behind on rent.

Brown will convene a special session of the Oregon Legislature on Monday to address pressing needs surrounding the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. For the one-day session, Brown has asked legislators to consider $800 million in relief for those suffering financially from the COVID-19 pandemic and the spate of wildfires this year.

The state Chamber of Commerce’s proposed business reopen plan also comes at a time when the number of coronavirus cases and deaths continue to climb in Douglas County and Oregon.

Douglas County had 1,244 cases of coronavirus as of Thursday, and 36 deaths, compared to 678 cases and 12 deaths a month ago. That represents an 83% increase in cases and a 200% increase in deaths in the last 30 days.

Additionally, the county had more than 700 people either in isolation or quarantine on Wednesday.

Statewide, Oregon on Tuesday announced a record high of 54 coronavirus deaths. That was followed by 48 deaths on Wednesday and another 21 on Thursday, bringing the state’s death toll to 1,283 people.

The state is also racing toward the 100,000 mark in confirmed and presumptive cases, with 98,936 as of Thursday. The number of patients hospitalized with COVID-19 across Oregon stood at 551 on Thursday; 113 of them are in intensive care unit beds.

Debbie Baxter has created more than 6,000 masks to donate

Debbie Baxter has been a crafter for most of her life, so when the COVID-19 pandemic started she got out her sewing machine and started making masks.

She’s made more than 6,000 masks since the start of the pandemic and continues to place free masks on her front porch at 1686 NW Hopper St. in Roseburg.

“We have little baskets for each size,” she said, adding that there are four sizes. She packages each mask in plastic and has gloves and sanitizer available too.

She said she spent about eight hours a day making masks when the pandemic first started, but when the rules relaxed a little over the summer so did she. However, when masks became mandatory lots of people came to her.

“I stopped counting when I got to 4,000 masks, but then I did the math the other day and it has been over 6,000,” Baxter said.

She uses the same pattern for each mask and has gotten quite fast at creating them.

“If I need to I can probably make 40 or 50 masks in a day,” Baxter said. “It’s a very repetitive thing and you come to a point where you don’t think about it, you just do it.”

The masks are free, but Baxter does accept donations. And if people really want a mask in a certain fabric, she’s been able to accommodate that too.

She was able to make pizza masks for Old Soul Pizza and Bluebird Pizza, where the masks were very much appreciated.

“It fits better and it doesn’t fog up my glasses,” said Zoe Harris at Bluebird Pizza. “Customers always say how cute it is, a pizza mask in a pizza place.”

When Roseburg Public Schools opened its door to some of the elementary schools she was contacted to provide masks for students.

“We were able to hand out some good masks for children that weren’t able to get that,” Baxter said.

Melrose Elementary School Principal Tammy Rasmussen appreciated Baxter’s ability to think beyond just providing safety, but also design in the masks.

“If it’s cute fabric, if it’s glittery or shiny and it’s theirs to keep forever, the kids are more likely to keep the masks on,” Rasmussen said. “That helps keep our school safe.”

Baxter worked as an instructional assistant for the school district for 30 years before she retired. Her husband, Dave, retired from Wolf Creek Job Corps and has helped out as well.

“They are wonderful people and always looking to help out the community,” said Vikki Pennington, a friend and former co-worker of Baxter. “She has worked tirelessly doing this for months.”

Rasmussen said that prior to the schools reopening she reached out to Baxter, who she had worked with in the past, to help provide masks for a retirement home.

“She didn’t just give me a few masks, she gave me 30 masks and different sizes,” Rasmussen said. “She customized it. She just thinks beyond the mask and thinks about the person and what’s going to bring them joy and whats going to make them safe.”

17 new cases as health officials warn against actions that could become super spreader events

The Douglas County COVID-19 Response Team reported 17 new cases of COVID-19 Thursday.

The cases bring the total since the pandemic’s beginning to 1,244. No new deaths were reported Thursday.

Thirteen county residents are hospitalized with the disease, 12 locally and one out of the area.

Personal protective equipment will be available for free to small businesses at two Douglas County locations Monday.

Douglas County will receive 20 pallets of personal protective equipment materials, including masks, gloves, hand sanitizer and sanitizing wipes.

These will be given out to small businesses from 9 a.m to 5 p.m. Monday at The News-Review, 345 NE Winchester St., in Roseburg, and from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday at South Umpqua Rentals, 140 N. Old Pacific Highway, in Myrtle Creek.

The materials are being given out on a first-come, first-served basis.

The giveaway is sponsored by the Southwestern Oregon Workforce Investment Board and Business Oregon.

The Southwestern Workforce Investment Board is a nonprofit organization that serves Coos, Curry and Douglas counties, investing in workforce skills and family-wage jobs. Business Oregon is the state’s economic development agency.

County public health officials continue to caution that large gatherings such as weddings, church services, poker games and holiday parties have become superspreader events in our county, where a single infection can become a large outbreak.

In addition to superspreader events, health officials said there are superspreader actions. This is where people have gone to work while sick and infected coworkers before testing positive at a later date.

One of those recently led to a local outbreak that resulted in quarantine for more than 300 people.

Another led to seven local deaths.

Douglas Public Health Network is supporting 157 people with COVID-19 who are in isolation, along with 574 who have been in close contact with a person who has the disease and are in quarantine.

The Oregon Health Authority reported 1,339 new COVID-19 cases Thursday. The state also reported 21 deaths, bringing the statewide death toll to 1,283.

Roseburg UPS driver facing additional charges related to southern Oregon I-5 shootings

The former Roseburg UPS driver who was arrested in August on suspicion of shooting at cars on Interstate 5 is facing additional charges in Jackson County Circuit Court.

At an arraignment hearing Thursday, Kenneth Alan Ayers, 49, received 26 additional charges. The grand jury indictment issued Wednesday included a total of 34 charges, including three counts of second-degree attempted murder, one count of second-degree assault, eight counts of unlawful use of a weapon and two counts of first-degree criminal mischief, all of which are felonies.

Ian Campbell / Jackson County Jail 


The indictment also included misdemeanor counts of reckless endangerment related to 14 drivers or passengers in the shootings, as well as six counts of second-degree criminal mischief relating to specific vehicle damage.

Defense attorney Paul Moser, sitting in for Ayers’ appointed defense counsel Clint Oborn, entered not guilty pleas on each of the new charges.

The new charges were brought in relation to shootings in Douglas and Josephine counties, which spanned over seven days.

Police found a .45-caliber gun in the UPS truck Ayers was driving, which was consistent with the firearm used during the shootings, police said. Police said a woman driving down I-5 was struck by a bullet from a .45-caliber gun on Aug. 19. A man was shot at with the same caliber gun on July 9. Neither person had life-threatening injuries as a result of the shooting.

Ayers is also the main suspect in similar shootings on I-5 that occurred May 12, June 2, June 15, June 22 and July 7.

Ayers was initially charged on suspicion of attempted murder, second-degree assault, seven counts of unlawful use of a weapon, seven counts of second-degree criminal mischief, and 13 counts of recklessly endangering another person.

Ayers was arrested after the most recent shooting near Canyonville.

Jackson County Circuit Court Judge Laura Cromwell held Ayers’ bail at $1 million.