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Surge in new COVID-19 cases continues with 36 new cases Wednesday

The Douglas County COVID-19 Response Team reported 36 new cases Wednesday.

The new cases continue the surge in cases that have made the past week the county’s worst ever, according to Douglas County Public Health Officer Bob Dannenhoffer.

“It’s very, very, very worrisome as to why we’re having so many cases,” Dannenhoffer said in a Facebook Live session Tuesday.

He said a nursing home outbreak involving 50 people, both staff and residents, is partly to blame, along with two other nursing home outbreaks. Every patient in the nursing home with the major outbreak who was not vaccinated is believed to have contracted the disease, he said, while 90% of those who had received the vaccine were protected.

There are also 23 school outbreaks, he said, primarily due to, not time in the classroom, but to social activities like birthday parties and activities bonding with sports teammates.

Workplace outbreaks are also a factor, he said, and these too primarily involve social activities with coworkers.

“I think we’re seeing there’s a laxity in some of the behaviors and a sense that hey we can kind of return to normal, but it’s very clear that when we return to normal and let go of some of those things that the diseases will come roaring back,” he said.

Eventually, these outbreaks make their way to seniors, he said. One of the nursing home outbreaks is tied to a sleepover and a workplace outbreak, he said.

No new deaths were reported Wednesday.

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said severe winter weather is causing widespread delays for vaccine shipments across the country.

“Shipping partners are working to deliver vaccine where possible, contingent on local conditions, but the adverse weather is expected to continue to impact shipments out of the FedEx facility in Memphis, Tennessee, as well as the UPS facility in Louisville, Kentucky, which serve as vaccine shipping hubs for multiple states,” CDC spokesperson Jasmine Reed said.

The response team said those delays will be felt in Douglas County.

Statewide, 707,244 vaccinations have been given, according to the Oregon Health Authority. Of those, 8,894 have been in Douglas County.

County residents are being asked to first contact their regular doctors to set up vaccine appointments.

Some local pharmacies also have vaccines. They include those at Bi-Mart, Fred Meyer, Costco and Albertson’s stores, as well as Gordon’s Pharmacy in Canyonville.

Vaccines are also being sent from the federal government to the Roseburg VA Medical Center and the Cow Creek Band of Umpqua Tribe of Indians.

Currently, seniors 75 and older are eligible. Seniors 70 and older become eligible Monday.

Fifteen county residents are currently hospitalized with COVID-19, 10 locally and five out of the area.

The Douglas Public Health Network is supporting 264 people who have the illness are in isolation, as well as another 481 people who have been in contact with an infected person and are in quarantine.

The Oregon Health Authority reported 473 new cases and five new deaths statewide Wednesday.

Plenty has changed for the better since the 2019 "Snowmageddon"

The weather forecast for Feb. 24, 2019, called for heavy overnight rain and a possibility of flooding in low lying areas.

Something in the atmosphere shifted, and threw virtually all of Douglas County into a state of chaos.

Instead, wet, heavy snow began Sunday afternoon and continued into Monday morning, covering the valley floor with 4 inches. Trees were toppled. Power lines pulled to the ground. Many rural roads were made impassable. More than 31,000 people were without power. Interstate 5 was shut down from Cottage Grove to Glendale, as were all highways in and out of the Roseburg area due to downed trees and power lines.

The snow was unrelenting, continuing for another two days during one of the more damaging weather events Douglas County had seen.

“It was definitely a surprise,” said Darrin Neavoll, Region 3 Manager for the Oregon Department of Transportation. “We were getting geared up for flooding and heavy rains.”

Instead, ODOT, utility company workers and first responders were thrust into full scramble mode, clearing roads and trying to restore power to customers who were left in the dark, some for days and others for weeks.

Nancy Pahl lives near the top of Wild Iris Lane on a hill behind Sunshine Park east of Roseburg. Having lived on her property since 1984 — at 1,300 feet elevation — Pahl is no stranger to snow.

This particular event was different.

“The first night, I had 10 inches of snow and by the next day, there were 20,” said Pahl, now 70. Pahl was without power for seven days, a time that included a medical emergency.

After a neighbor was able to make it up to her home and bring firewood, she was attempting to stoke the fire in her wood stove when she lost her balance and badly burned both hands on the door of her wood stove. A neighbor with an all-terrain vehicle made it to her home and got her off the hill to a waiting ambulance for care.

Once she returned home from the hospital, another neighbor arrived with a generator so she could restore power to her home.

“My neighbors were all looking out for me,” Pahl said.

Her story was similar to many in the county as neighbors pitched in to help each other with food, supplies and support, not unlike the outpouring of support this past fall as residents were displaced during the Archie Creek Fire.

“Snowmageddon,” as it was called, proved a valuable training tool for ODOT, Neavoll said.

“It gave us more opportunities to work with other agencies, get the right contacts and set up better communications protocols,” Neavoll said. “After that storm, we did a much better job during the fire response. We had a good coordinated effort there.”

Eric Johnson, communications specialist for the City of Roseburg, said that when the infamous snowstorm struck, the city simply wasn’t prepared.

“As most residents know from firsthand accounts, our city, by all accounts, was simply not prepared for the snow levels that came from this event,” Johnson said in an email. “And it is by no fault of the city, but simply due to the fact that these types of weather events rarely happen.”

In fact, Johnson’s present job was created out of the chaos that surrounded Snowmageddon. He said the lessons learned out of that weather event have aided in improved communications related to basic city infrastructure.

“There were more tactical level lessons learned from Snowmageddon,” Johnson said. “For instance, our water treatment plant, previous to the weather event, did not have emergency backup power. Had we not gone through this event, we probably would not have identified backup power as a need for quite some time.

“Another thing we didn’t foresee was the emergence of remote work,” Johnson said, referring to City of Roseburg employees working from home during the coronavirus pandemic. “It is these little silver linings that we have identified which will allow us to address future emergency events in a better manner.”

As the two-year anniversary of Snowmageddon approaches, Oregon found itself in the cross hairs of another potentially dangerous winter storm. Heavy snow and freezing rain had been predicted for a majority of western Oregon, especially in the Cascade Mountains from California to southern Washington.

As the storm system moved closer, it shifted north, instead bearing down on cities in the northern Willamette Valley while southwestern Oregon stayed relatively unaffected.

Pahl admits that early forecasts of the most recent event had her nervous, and she was quite relieved when the storm shifted course.

“I didn’t want to do that again,” Pahl said. “I wouldn’t wish that on anybody.”

County seeks input on 20-year transportation plan

The Douglas County Planning Department is working on a 20-year plan for transportation systems in the county.

The last time a 20-year transportation plan was done was back in 1998, and Douglas County Planning Director Joshua Shaklee said a lot has changed since then.

“Like a lot of the plans we work on, it’s a 20-year time frame into the future that we’re looking at. We’re identifying projects, potential funding sources and identifying where the gaps in service and the gaps in our facilities are,” he said.

During the pandemic, the county has had to find an alternative to the traditional open house, at which county residents would traditionally come and give their feedback.

While visitors to a traditional open house would be able to stick pins in a map and identify trouble spots such as unsafe intersections, now they have the opportunity to do essentially the same thing online.

The county worked with Portland consultant Parametrix on a website that allows online open house participants to mark trouble spots on an interactive map, called a story map, and describe their concerns.

The site also includes a survey.

The county began work on the Douglas County Transportation System Plan in September, and the plan is expected to be completed in summer 2022.

Right now, it’s in the goal setting phase of a wide-ranging plan that will cover all sorts of transportation issues involving roads, bridges, rails and ports.

Transportation is all about multimodal forms of transport these days, meaning meeting the needs of pedestrians, cyclists and people using public transit in addition to the traditional vehicle drivers.

“There’s more of an emphasis on different modes of transportation and really making it accessible through transit or other means, making transportation available to the entire population, not just those who can afford a car,” Shaklee said.

Another big issue the plan will address is safety, he said.

“I know a lot of us thinking about the county can think of several places out there where wrecks occur,” he said.

Those places may need better signs, signals or even roundabouts to improve safety, he said.

Another goal is to improve connectivity, “making sure that everyone can get to where they want to go in the county in the safest way possible,” he said.

In addition to taking public comment, the county has a committee of stakeholders involved in transportation. That committee includes membership from the independent Umpqua Public Transportation District, which operates the U-Trans buses and Dial-a-Ride in the county.

The deadline for public comment through the online open house on the transportation plan was recently extended through March 15.

To access the open house, go to the project webpage at

http://douglascountytsp.org and click on the Online Open House button.

Those who are not able to use the webpage can call the planning department at 541-440-4289 and give their comments either to Shaklee or to Senior Planner Katharine Jackson, the project manager.

So far, 38 comments have been made on the story map and five people have completed the survey, Shaklee said.

The project is funded by the Oregon Department of Transportation with Federal Highway Administration and state funds.