ENTERPRISE — Concerns over the Union County surge of COVID-19 and the planned Fourth of July fireworks show on Wallowa Lake were heard by the Wallowa County Commission at its Wednesday, June 17, meeting at the courthouse.
Fireworks coordinator Mike Lockhart said that because of the steep rise in cases in neighboring Union County, he was putting the fireworks display on hold.
“At this time, we have most everything ready to go,” he said. “The contractor is ready. We have the money. We have approval from the sheriff”s office and Paul Karvoski, head of Wallowa County Emergency Management. We are down to the point of signing the contract.”
But things can change rapidly, these days.
“As the situation in La Grande popped up, the landscape changed a little bit,” Lockhart said. “At this point in time we are just holding off a little bit to see how that develops. We don”t want to do anything that”s irresponsible.”
Lockhart said that the group is considering ways that people might be able to attend by watching the show from their cars or other measures which he didn”t specify.
The fireworks were in a similar situation to Chief Joseph Days had been, he said.
“We will wait as long as we can before we make an announcement,” he said. “But we don”t have a set date for that decision in mind.”
Commissioner Todd Nash thanked Lockhart for his transparency and for voluntarily providing the commission and the public with an update on plans.
“It”s going to be a hard thing to give up. In light of what”s gone on in La Grande, you need to make your decisions based on that,” he said.
Wallowa County resident Bruce Macke expressed concern about the potential for the spread coronavirus in Wallowa County, now that it has exploded in neighboring Union County. Macke recently retired from teaching science at Cove High School. He brought that experience to bear in his pleas for the commissioners to recognize and address the threat posed by a serious COVID-19 outbreak close at hand.
“This outbreak is way beyond the number posted by the Oregon Health Authority this week,” he said. “Some 240 cases have been out there (contagious, spreading the disease) for two weeks, and the numbers are much greater than those who have been diagnosed. To be honest about it, there could be 1,000 infections in Union County, easily. We have a wildfire in La Grande.”
Commissioners assured Macke that they were consulting with the medical community. Commissioner John Hillock noted that the commissioners were set to meet with the hospital and others in the medical community on June 17.
“We have a shipment of N95 masks coming and we are happy to give one to anyone who wants one,” Commissioner Susan Roberts said.
Nash said that doctors he respected had advised him that “we need to develop herd immunity, and we need to normalize again.”
Macke responded that “herd immunity” would take at least five years to develop, and require that 60% to 70% of the population to develop the disease.
“We”re at about 3% nationally now,” he said.
He also pointed out that wearing even a basic cloth mask reduced the chance of spreading COVID-19 threefold.
“This isn”t about business or money or anything else,” Macke said. “This is about protecting our community. I”m asking you to listen to the medical community and in light of the changes that have happened in La Grande. Make it your No. 1 priority to protect our community.”
In other matters, the commissioners approved the Community Advisory application of Kristen Ruckdashel, approved application for community development block grant to establish a composting program as part of the county”s recycling program and approved sending a letter to the U.S. Forest Service for coordinating the Morgan-Nesbit Project.