East Oregonian : E.O. (Pendleton, OR) 1888-current, March 06, 2021, WEEKEND EDITION, Page 9, Image 9

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Saturday, March 6, 2021
East Oregonian
Schools: ‘Right now it’s 35 square feet per student in a classroom space’
Continued from Page A1
governor announced that
individual districts, rather
than state officials, would
make the final decision in
whether to offer in-person
Back then, about 50,000
students in public schools
were regularly visiting class-
rooms and getting face time
with teachers. By the end of
last week, that number had
risen to 136,000 — about 1 in
4 of the state’s public school
“All public schools will
operate delivering in-per-
son instruction through
either a fully on-site or a
hybrid instructional model,
while continuing to follow
the mandatory health and
safety guidance from RSSL
[Ready Schools, Safe Learn-
ers],” Brown wrote in a letter
addressed to the leaders of
the Oregon Health Authority
and the Oregon Department
of Education.
According to the Oregon
Department of Education,
almost 700 schools were
operating in either a hybrid
instructional model, which
includes some in-person
instruction, or a fully on-site
model as of Feb. 27. The
majority of schools — and
students — in Oregon are still
in comprehensive distance
learning, with some small
groups receiving limited
in-person instruction.
Most Eastern Oregon
schools had already brought
at least their youngest grades
back to the classroom,
Crisis :
Continued from Page A1
days, a workload that used to
represent a month’s worth of
Elaine Anderson, a sales
manager for Guild Mort-
gage Co. in Pendleton, has
also noticed a considerable
uptick in business. Ander-
son said low interest rates on
home loans has helped drive
the increased demand on the
housing market. The market
is so competitive that Farley
has encouraged his clients
to be sure about their offers,
because it may be their only
Farley and others in the
real estate industry said they
don’t expect the market to
slacken until Pendleton’s
housing stock grows.
It’s a problem for both rent-
ers and homebuyers, even as
Pendleton is showing signs of
Progress on the
The city of Pendleton
issued 77 housing permits last
year, a 10-year high. Exclud-
ing manufactured homes,
the housing units had a total
value of $10.3 million, also
a high mark. But Pendleton
was seemingly on the cusp
of adding hundreds of more
units than that, and some of
the large projects the city
has been directly involved in
have been slow to get off the
The city reached a deal
with I & E Construction
of Wilsonville to build a
200-unit apartment complex
on Westgate two years
ago. Tim Simons, the city’s
community development
director, said the developer
is still working on lining
up financing for the project
and could break ground this
In early 2020, the city
approved a tax abatement deal
with the new owner of the old
U.S. Forest Service building
on Southwest Hailey Avenue.
Simons said the project was
delayed when the developer
switched architects, but it’s
still in progress.
The city is also involved in
two affordable housing proj-
ects: an 80-unit complex off
of Tutuilla Road and a 70-unit
project on South Hill. The
former is where some of the
rehousing money was redi-
rected and flood survivors
will be given preference when
rentals open up.
Large, single-family devel-
opments have been harder to
come by, but Simons said he
hears regularly from devel-
Ben Lonergan/East Oregonian, File
Elementary students wear masks and sit in alternating desks during in-person instruction at the Echo School on Feb. 2, 2021.
however. Some, like Stan-
field School District, had the
space to bring all students
back for full days while still
maintaining social distanc-
ing and small cohorts of
students. Others have been
offering a hybrid schedule,
with students divided into
two groups and going for half
days or every other day.
Hermiston School District
had previously announced
that it planned to return
middle school students to
the classroom for half days
starting March 22 and high
school students on April 12,
which would meet the gover-
nor’s deadlines. Kindergarten
through third grade students
have already returned,
and fourth and fifth grade
students will transition to a
hybrid schedule on Monday,
March 8.
Superintendent Tricia
Mooney said the governor’s
announcement is a “step in
the right direction” toward
bringing all Oregon students
back, and it has been exciting
for Hermiston School District
staff to see some students
back in the classroom already.
She pointed to the state-
ment in Brown’s letter to
OHA and ODE directing
them to provide updated
safety guidance to districts
by no later than March 19,
and said those updates to
regulations, such as how
many students are allowed
in a cohort, will play into the
district’s plans for bringing
secondary students back.
In Pendleton, students
in K-5 schools had already
returned to in-person classes
on Feb. 22, and in a state-
ment on Thursday, March 4,
Superintendent Chris Fritsch
said the district is “plan-
ning to return our secondary
students using a hybrid model
on Monday, March 29.”
Fritsch said Brown’s
announcement will not make
any major changes to that
timeline, as the original plans
already fall in line with what
the governor announced. He
added that the school district
is waiting to hear from state
officials if this announcement
will alter any particulars,
such as physical distancing
guidelines, which he said is a
major barrier for bringing all
students back full time.
“Right now it’s 35 square
feet per student in a class-
room space,” he said. “And
until that changes, for a lot
of us, we wouldn’t be able to
bring all students back and
have them all in the class-
room at the same time.”
Fritsch said he expects to
hear more details from state
officials next week about
how the governor’s recent
announcement will affect
Pendleton schools.
Leaders of Oregon’s
teachers union responded
to the announcement with a
nuanced message, expressing
support for a return to in-per-
son learning, but repeat-
ing their emphasis on safety
“We hear, understand,
and share the frustration
expressed by many in our
communities about the
uncertainty this pandemic
has caused for our public
education system,” said the
statement signed by dozens of
local union presidents, “and
the long-standing educational
disparities that continue to
be exacerbated by reopening
plans that fail to truly center
student equity.”
The union message calls
on leaders in school districts
where agreements haven’t
been reached to continue
bargaining “in good faith
with local educators to craft
plans that will truly serve all
of our students.”
Oregon Public Broadcast-
ing reporter Elizabeth Miller
and Oregonian reporter Eder
Campuzano contributed to
this report.
opers interested in some of
the private tracts of land that
could be used for subdivi-
Despite the continuing
need for new housing, Pend-
leton Mayor John Turner said
he didn’t see a need to deviate
from the city council’s hous-
ing goals, which has been set
at 50 housing permits per year
since 2017. Citing the various
housing projects in develop-
ment, he anticipates hundreds
of new housing units will go
on the market over the next
two years.
Turner said Pendleton isn’t
unique in its need for housing,
an issue that’s felt nationally.
Banica, the manager at
Pendleton Title, said she’s
heard from title companies
across the region that they’re
seeing the same trend as
Hermiston defines
its own approach to
housing needs
When it comes to building
new housing, Pendleton city
officials have long pointed out
the disadvantages their city
has in contrast to its neigh-
bor to the west. In compari-
son to Hermiston’s sandy soil
and flat topography, Pendle-
ton’s rocky ground and sloped
surfaces makes building new
homes more difficult.
Hermiston saw a housing
boomlet of its own in 2020,
issuing 101 housing permits
last year. Unlike Pendleton,
all of them were single-fam-
ily dwellings.
Hermiston Assistant City
Manager Mark Morgan said
the city has honed its focus
on how to make the process
easier for developers. Morgan
said initiatives like partner-
ing with Umatilla County on
building a new water tower
and rezoning some industrial
land put Hermiston in a posi-
tion to attract development.
“Now, when you have a
massive shift in mortgage
rates, that has allowed the
private sector to strike while
the iron’s hot,” he said. “If we
were just trying to scramble
and work with developers to
chase historically low interest
rates, we would have missed
had we been starting from
scratch. All the work over the
past several years has allowed
the city to springboard off the
historically low interest rates.”
Morgan said Hermiston is
aware that the housing market
is continuing to shrink across
the country, but it’s hopeful its
approach of providing public
infrastructure to developers
will continue to pay off.
East Oregonian reporter
Bryce Dole contributed to this
Ben Lonergan/East Oregonian
Volunteers check eligibility and distribute information to those seeking a COVID-19 vaccine at the Pendleton Convention
Center on Jan. 28, 2021.
Vaccine: ‘It really isn’t an apples to apples comparison’
Continued from Page A1
Fiumara, the email only
listed eight counties, and
Umatilla County was the
one left out.
“We thought that was the
new (weekly) floor for us,”
Fiumara said. He added that
the typo was “frustrating”
and “disappointing.”
Such meager allocations
have caused the county to
fall in recent weeks to some
of the lowest vaccination
rates statewide, officials have
Approximately 1,006
county residents have been
vaccinated per 10,000 people
as of Friday, March 5, ranked
last in the state, according to
data from the Oregon Health
“Us and our partners in
the county have been pretty
good at kicking our vaccine
out as of seven days of
having received it,” Fiumara
said. “There’s been a few
instances where it’s taken
the second week to get rid of
some stragglers, but we’ve
pretty much kicked it out
pretty fast. We just haven’t
received enough” doses.
In response to the low
totals, county officials earlier
this week sent a letter to Gov.
Kate Brown’s office, claim-
ing the state was failing at
its promises to focus vaccine
distribution toward vulner-
able minority communities
where infection has spread
“This is not due to a lack
of capacity to vaccinate our
residents. We have never
Ben Lonergan/East Oregonian, File
A vial of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine sits alongside syring-
es at a Umatilla County Public Heath drive-thru vaccination
clinic at the Pendleton Convention Center on Jan. 28, 2021.
even tapped the upper limits
of our vaccine allocations,”
the letter says. “While equity
is high on Oregon’s agenda,
this is an embarrassing and
inexcusable contradiction.”
New vaccines
But there is reason to
hope that things will soon
begin to shift, Fiumara said.
The county has a significant
population of essential work-
ers who will soon become
eligible for the vaccine,
which “in theory” should
make it so the state allo-
cates more doses toward the
county, Fiumara said.
In addition, several new
county businesses are to
receive doses in the coming
weeks, including Bi-Mart,
Walmart and Rite Aid. Both
Safeway and Mirasol Family
Health Center are also
expected to see larger ship-
ments of vaccines than they
have previously, Fiumara
The doses sent to those
facilities are in addition to
the 900 doses sent from the
state to the county health
department, he added.
“All of that is way more
than we’ve been getting,”
Fiumara said.
The county this week also
received its first shipment of
100 doses of the Johnson &
Johnson vaccine — a single-
dose vaccine with an efficacy
rate of 72% against moderate
and severe cases.
Due to its effectiveness
compared to that of the Pfizer
and Moderna vaccine, which
are each over 90% effective,
some people have voiced
skepticism about the new
Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
Experts say that compar-
ing these numbers is prob-
lematic. The trials were held
at different places at differ-
ent times where infection
was spreading at different
rates. That makes it difficult
to judge if the lower percent
is genuinely due to the prod-
uct or the environment.
“It really isn’t an apples
to apples comparison,”
Fiumara said, adding that
the efficacy rate for the
Johnson & Johnson vaccine
is still very high compared
to a common flu shot. “And
I know that makes it really
tough for folks to under-
The new vaccine can
also be stored in normal
refrigeration for months,
and because it is a one-shot
i m mu n izat ion, health
officials nationally have
expressed enthusiasm that
it will help the vaccine
rollout immensely. Trials
also showed the vaccine
prevented 100 percent of
hospitalizations and deaths
related to COVID-19.
Fiumara said local
Bi-Marts are now receiv-
ing the Johnson & Johnson
vaccine, and health officials
are now working with the
businesses to help with their
scheduling and procedures.
“For now, it has been
approved with really good
effectiveness rates, espe-
cially against severe illness,”
Fiumara said. “Any way
you look at any of these
(vaccines), they are far better
than anything a year ago we
thought we would have.”
In all, 8,169 Umatilla
County residents have been
vaccinated, with 4,743
having received their second
dose, according to state data.