By Representative David Gomberg, House District 10
Happy New Year!
I’m sure most of us will be happy to see 2020 fade in the rear-view mirror. From pandemic to wildfire to repeated clashes between protesters and police, this year has pushed us to our limits. As the year comes to a close, we all need to take a mask-covered breath and give some thought to how we can do better moving forward.
Earlier this month, your legislature met in our third special session to approve tools to get kids back in school, support for the struggling restaurant industry, help for people unable to pay the rent, and funds for landlords who have not been paid. Each measure moved ahead smoothly and with support from both Democrats and Republicans. But outside the building, a group was protesting that they could not come in and participate.
To be clear, I support that message. A number of steps had been taken to encourage access with many people testifying in virtual hearings over the course of three days. Remote government works, but it doesn’t work well. We need to find ways to do better. But I watched in sadness as the Monday protest turned violent. Some in the crowd maced the police, roughed up reporters, and broke capitol windows. If their signs and flags were any indication, the Capitol mob was not concerned about renters and schools as much as they were protesting COVID restrictions and the outcome of the recent election.
In a year fraught with difficulties and frustration, that message resonated. As the divide between Oregonians grows deeper and wider, I fear our greatest loss is our confidence in who we trust and what we believe. Is COVID a serious health threat? Was the election legitimate? Are vaccinations safe? If we’re not even talking to one another from a shared understanding of truth, how is it even possible to find common ground?
Here’s a look back at how the 2020 pandemic played out economically in Oregon, with a survey of sectors that thrived and others that struggled during the state’s unprecedented downturn.
- Online shopping and delivery are thriving. Amazon has hired 400,000 worldwide this year, and its stock is up 80% since the beginning of March. In Oregon, transportation and warehouse jobs are up 7% in the past year.
- Oregon supermarket sales spiked more than 65% in April and remained up 38% in early December. Since we cannot go to restaurants, we’re stocking up on food and cooking more at home.
- Gyms have struggled to stay afloat. Instead we exercise outside or at home. Sales of bikes, equipment and repair services were up more than 60% in June. Home fitness product sales exploded as well. After having its worst year in 2019, Vancouver-based Nautilus enjoyed a 152% increase in sales in its third quarter.
- Governor Brown allowed garden, hardware and home improvement stores to stay open. Those stores saw an immediate uptick in demand as interest in home improvement projects skyrocketed with more people staying home. Sales at those stores are up 13.4% this year as compared to 2019.
- Passenger volumes at Portland International Airport plunged 95% in April, as air travel ground to a near complete halt. Planes that did fly were largely empty. Travel picked up steadily as the year went on but remained down two-thirds from a year ago.
- Oregon’s restaurant sector laid-off two thirds of its workers last spring in the first days of the pandemic, 47,000 people altogether. Many of those jobs returned over the summer as outdoor dining picked up, only to vanish again as the state ordered an end to most dine-in service amid a resurgent coronavirus.
- Hotel demand in Oregon plummeted in the early weeks of the pandemic as occupancy rates fell by 67% in the first week of April. Oregon’s lodging sector has shed 8,600 jobs in the past year, with total employment down by one-third. The drop in hotel revenue could have serious implications for cities across the state, which derive general fund money from lodging taxes.
- Live entertainment, concerts, festivals, sporting events and conventions were cancelled due to public health restrictions. In a September survey of 1,000 business owners, nearly 70% of respondents said they were worried their business wouldn’t survive past January.
- Bricks-and-mortar retail sales plunged a record 16% in April as stay-at-home orders and public health restrictions forced many stores to close and prompted consumers to turn to online shopping. While some types of retailers have fared better than others, more than half of 60 small businesses surveyed in September, reported that their sales were down 50% to 90% compared to the same time last year.
The availability of vaccines offers hope that we have turned the corner on COVID. But the questions remains whether enough Oregonians will take the treatment when offered.
Delivery and administration of the two FDA-authorized COVID-19 vaccines is now underway in Oregon. The Oregon Health Authority has released recommendations for groups of people to receive the vaccine first. Below are the groups classified in Phase 1a, meaning they are the first people to receive the vaccine:
- Group 1: Hospitals; urgent care; skilled nursing and memory care facility health care providers and residents; tribal health programs; emergency medical services providers and other first responders.
- Group 2: Other long-term care facilities and congregate care sites, including health care providers and residents; hospice programs; mobile crisis care and related services; individuals working in a correctional setting; personnel of group homes for children or adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
- Group 3: Outpatient settings serving specific high-risk groups; in-home care; day treatment services; non-emergency medical transportation.
- Group 4: Health care personnel working in other outpatient and public health settings.
A new poll shows that a majority of Oregonians are willing to roll up their sleeves and get immunized, but enthusiasm varies by demographics.
While news about the vaccination rollout and increased testing capacity is promising, fighting the spread of COVID-19 remains vitally important. Continue to wear a mask and limit in-person contacts. For anyone struggling with mental health during the pandemic, resources are available online at OHA’s Safe + Strong website and over the phone through the Safe + Strong Helpline at 800-923-4357 (800-923-HELP). This line offers free, 24-7 emotional support and resource referral to anyone who needs it – not only those experiencing a mental health crisis.
I have often said that I do not agree with all of the restrictions implemented by Governor Brown. But that said, for all of our frustrations and challenges, Oregon is doing something right.
With a seven-day infection rate of just over 30 people per 100,000, Oregon ranks 48th among the 50 states. Only Vermont and Hawaii have lower rates. Tennessee has the worst at 128 per 100,000. California’s wave of cases has it ranked third – behind Rhode Island – with 98 per 100,000.
But Oregon is also doing very well in a country that is doing just about the worst in the world. The U.S. ranks 10th highest in current infection spread, at 64 per 100,000. If Oregon were an independent nation, its infection rate would be the 35th highest in the world.
Very few Oregon industries have suffered more than our arts and culture sector this year. Performing arts organizations, museums, concert halls, libraries, theater groups and dance companies across the state have taken a huge hit due to ongoing closures and restrictions on large gatherings.
Now, in a focused effort to help our cultural community recover in 2021, the Cultural Trust is urging more Oregonians to donate to organizations they value and to utilize Oregon’s unique cultural tax credit to leverage greater annual funding for culture.
Donors simply give to one or more of the 1,450+ cultural nonprofits the Cultural Trust supports, then make a matching donation to the Trust before December 31. The donation to the Trust comes back, dollar for dollar, when you claim the cultural tax credit on state taxes.
Please help our arts, history, heritage and humanities nonprofits survive the pandemic by donating to the Cultural Trust and claiming your tax credit.
As we close out 2020, I am determined to do so with a grateful heart. We have experienced immense heartache. Lives have been lost, health has been strained, social norms were tossed to the wayside. Schools moved to distant learning, businesses have suffered, homes and property burned, and we have experienced stress unlike ever before. I have felt the weight of the district in ways I never imagined. Through all of this, we learned we can count on each other and that together we can get through this.
I am grateful to so many of you – healthcare professionals and medical staff; educators and school staff; first responders; students and parents that rose to the challenge; essential workers that stayed at the frontlines and delivered services to each and every one of us needing groceries, banking, city services, utility service; and to each of you who volunteered to help family, neighbors, and even strangers.
Thank you all for continuing to do your part to keep yourself and those around you healthy. Wear your mask, wash your hands frequently and stay at a safe distance. The challenges of 2020 did not begin in January and it will take a few months for 2021 to kick in. Light is at the end of this troubled tunnel.
Happy New Year!