With public gatherings of more than 25 banned and more than 10 discouraged, there’s not much happening in Wallowa County right now.
That includes no confirmed or known COVID-19 cases, although with virtually no testing available, even for those with a fever and dry cough, the number of people who have the disease may be significantly higher than zero.
Statewide, only 47 people have been diagnosed with COVID-19. However, testing for the disease is not widely available. A variety of flu, Influenza A, is also touring Wallowa County, according to Wallowa Memorial Hospital spokeswoman Brooke Pace. Its symptoms are similar to COVID-19. Testing kits are available for it. (See sidebar)
Oregon U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley announced late Monday that $7.2 million has been awarded to Oregon by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to support Oregon’s effort to control COVID-19. The funds are part of the $8.3 billion relief bill passed in a bipartisan effort by the U.S. House and Senate, and signed by President Donald Trump last week.
But Pace was unsure of how much funding would be available to Wallowa County and what it might be used for.
Superintendent Erika Pinkerton told the Enterprise School Board on Monday that the school was told to expect a two-week shutdown, which would permit Enterprise and other districts to treat the lost time as snow days. That would allow the school year to end on the originally scheduled dates, would not interfere with prom and would not require any extra measures that might include online teaching or one-on-one tutoring.
However, there’s some expectation that schools statewide — and even nationwide — will be closed for up to eight weeks. That would require either online teaching or other arrangements, she said.
“People have asked me that if we are such a rural school and we don’t have any cases here, do we have to close down the schools? The answer is yes, if the state says so,” she said.
Pinkerton continues to meet with Oregon and county superintendents for updates and brainstorming on how schools can best navigate educational requirements in light of mandatory closings.
“At least we were able to supply lunches today for kids in need,” she said.” The schools will continue to provide sack breakfasts and lunches for those in those programs, but students will have to pick up their bagged breakfast or lunch at the school. Joseph and Wallowa have similar arrangements for food availability. The Enterprise School Board meeting was attended by nine actual people and another 10 via Go to Meeting or other apps.
School sporting events, including baseball, golf, track and field and softball are on hold, with no practices being held.
A number of churches have also halted services, including the Methodist Church in Joseph. The Enterprise Christian Church has asked those who may be susceptible to coronavirus, including those over age 60, to consider avoiding Sunday services.
And some businesses, including art galleries and even the U.S. Forest Service in Joseph, are open or available by appointment only.
Relatively new rules on public gatherings imposed by Gov. Kate Brown as of Monday include:
• Gatherings of more than 25 people are prohibited and fewer than 10 are encouraged.
• Restaurants are closed to dining in. Restaurants and bars are prohibited from serving food or beverages on-site. They may provide “to go” service. Food service at health care facilities, work places and other essential facilities will continue. (So we could go out to eat at Wallowa Memorial Hospital?)
• All schools are closed in Wallowa County (even Troy). They are anticipated to reopen on April 1.
• School sporting events and practices are postponed.
Cancellations, postponements, and temporary closings and general restrictions in Wallowa County as of Tuesday morning include:
• “Essential individual visitors only” at Wallowa Valley Senior Living. No resident there has been diagnosed or is showing signs of COVID-19, and staff intends to keep it that way, said Angie Train, assistant manager, on Monday afternoon. Similar restrictions are enforced in Joseph.
• Wallowa-Whitman National Forest offices in Oregon, Washington and Idaho are now open by appointment only. In accordance with guidance from the Department of Agriculture to limit in-person interactions, requests for visits to National Forest offices will be limited to necessary and time-sensitive business which cannot be handled over the phone or on the Internet.
• The Bank of Eastern Oregon anniversary celebration March 20 is canceled.
• A service project trip to Baja California for six students from Wallowa and Joseph high schools has been canceled and will be rescheduled for the 2020-21 school year. The students, members of Rotary-sponsored Interact clubs at their schools, voted on Sunday along with their parents to postpone the trip because of uncertainty regarding the coronavirus risk.
• Gov. Brown declared an abnormal market disruption regarding essential items like hand sanitizer and toilet paper, to prevent price gouging during this public health crisis. You can buy Purell at a normal price.
Like the rest of Oregon and the nation, Wallowa County’s economy is beginning to show signs of suffering. Although the beginning of serious tourist in-migration is still a month away, some bed and breakfasts, motels and summer-related activities have far fewer bookings than they normally expect.
“It’s just not looking good,” said John McColgan, who runs Belle Peppers in Joseph, with his wife, Pepper.