Happy post-Labor Day, everyone! Today was supposed to be the day when the pandemic was well and truly on its way out in Oregon, the kids were back in school, people were back to work in their offices and fall was officially on its way. We all know how that went.
And yet, somehow, there’s more news to keep tabs on than ever. Here’s your rundown on what everyone will be talking about this week. (Got an upcoming story you think we should include in this feature? Get in touch at [email protected].)
The Race is On
Post-Labor Day is when politicians and their campaigns traditionally kick into high gear, and this year is no different, even if the elections in question are more than a year away. Last week, two high-profile entrants jumped the gun—that’d be House Speaker Tina Kotek, the North Portland Democrat who announced her run for the governor’s office, and current Multnomah County Commissioner Jessica Vega Pedersen, who is officially running to be Multnomah County Chair when colleague Deborah Kafoury steps down in 2022.
Speaking of Kafoury, her name has floated as a possible gubernatorial candidates as well, even as Kotek hoovers up support from organized labor and her fellow legislators via her early announcement. The coming weeks should snap the governor’s race (and possibly others) more clearly into focus—we’re especially interested to see what New York Times columnist and Yamhill native Nick Kristof decides to do, after publicly mulling a run. Our bet is that he’ll give it a go—if you aren’t interested in running, why pay one of Portland’s whitest-shoe law firms to produce a 15 page manifesto documenting your right as a resident to do so, and then make sure that Willamette Week reporters see it?
A Peak for Delta
Speaking of COVID—and when, truly, are we not speaking of COVID these days—this week marks what analysts at OHSU say could be the peak of the Delta variant caused surge in Oregon. If the forecast holds out, hospitalizations will peak on September 6 (so, yesterday). But it’s not like all will be smooth sailing from here on out. Hospitalizations could start to go down, but no one knows how quickly. And deaths are often a lagging indicator, so it could be a few weeks yet until those decline too. This roughly follows the pattern that the Delta variant blazed in India and in Great Britain—a giant surge, followed by a steep drop that eventually levels out. Ideally, the virus would recede because so many people are vaccinated that it has fewer hosts; in this case, when it happens, it will be in part because so many more people in Oregon now have natural immunity, having contracted the virus in the last two months.
The Mandate Mess
Speaking of COVID, by the end of this week, Portland city employees will have to either demonstrate that they are a) fully vaccinated, b) partially vaccinated and scheduled for dose number two, or c) filing for a hard-to-get medical or religious exemption. They’ve got until mid-October to be either fully vaccinated or have their exemption request granted, or face termination.
Somewhat predictably, this has generated pushback among labor unions, who have demanded the right to bargain over the change to their workplace terms. Meanwhile, vaccination rates have continued to tick up around the city, county and state, driven in part by—you guessed it—employer vaccine mandates.
As City Hall Turns
Speaking of Portland City Hall, you can be forgiven if you blinked and missed the one week reign of Mayor Ted Wheeler’s latest communications director, Lennox Wiseley, who was employed by the city for exactly one week before tendering her resignation, citing City Hall’s hothouse (read: toxic?) environment.
Wiseley—whom we cannot resist noting came from the world of reality TV, with producer cred on The Millionaire Matchmaker and The Great Food Truck Race (Do the trucks race each other? Or is it a race to find the best one? So. Many. Questions.)—lasted even less time than former White House press secretary Anthony Scaramucci, whose boss also famously came from the world of reality TV. We’ll be watching this week to see whose name is on the mayor’s press releases, and keeping an eye on those job postings too. (One of those press releases will no doubt be about the city council's scheduled vote on Wednesday to ban spending any money with any Texas-based businesses, and putting the brakes on any city employee travel to the Lone Star state, given their draconian new abortion rights ban.)
The federal government’s pandemic unemployment benefits, in place for the last 18 months, expired on September 4, and workers in Oregon, as elsewhere, will be scrambling this week to adjust to a new reality. Oregonians who were laid off as a result of the pandemic have been receiving an extra $300 a week from the federal government, a lifeline for many.
The hit could be even harder for the self-employed, who typically don’t qualify for state unemployment insurance, and for those who’ve been on state unemployment long enough that their benefits have expired. Meanwhile, Oregon’s economy has been rebounding, and unemployment levels are going down, but the uncertainty caused by the Delta variant could put the brakes on hiring. (More on this in this excellent piece from Oregon Public Broadcasting.)