5 Oregon Stories to Watch This Week, November 29–December 4
Getting back to work and school after a long holiday weekend can be a little disorienting—between the turkey and the Black Friday deals, your news muscles probably haven’t gotten much of a workout (unless you spent the weekend poring over every shred of detail about the Omicron variant?) Never fear—read on, and you’ll soon be up to date.
Oh No Omicron
It was just last Tuesday that Oregon officials announced that they were dropping the state’s outdoor mask mandate in public places, regardless of crowd size, after being the last state in the country to have that particular rule in place. Even though there are still no (public) metrics as to what it would take to pull back on the indoor mask mandate, it seemed like an optimistic step for those who are eagerly seeking the light at the end of our collective pandemic tunnel. Then came news of the Omicron variant, and we were reminded of why we just can’t have nice things. Researchers are urging caution, but not panic; there's a lot we don’t know yet, including whether the vaccines will hold up against this new variant, though extremely early reports suggest that while it’s very transmissible, it’s not (yet) more virulent, particularly for the vaccinated. Locally, health officials will be keeping an eye on our state’s numbers, which have been on a steady decline for the past three months, to detect any cases of the new variant, and to see whether it causes an uptick here.
Never Normal in Newberg
The drama with the Newberg school board absolutely will not quit. Already this year, the district has passed a likely illegal ban on displaying Black Lives Matter or LGBTQ+ material in classrooms, and then abruptly fired its longtime superintendent who had pushed back against the ban (and the attendant legal fees.) Now, recalls have been launched against the school board's chair and one of his allies, even as he tried to call an emergency meeting this coming Tuesday for hiring a new, ostensibly unvetted superintendent. (The Oregonian reports that one possible candidate is Marc Thielman, the superintendent of the Alsea School District who has openly tried to help parents in his district get around the statewide mask mandate. Thielman is also running for governor as a Republican.)
Back at the Bargaining Table
Speaking of schools, parents in Portland might want to pay close attention to two days of bargaining between the Portland Association of Teachers and the school district, beginning on Monday and televised via YouTube. A few weeks ago, PAT president Elizabeth Thiel gave us an interview where she detailed the stress and exhaustion felt by many teachers in this school year. Thiel also went through some of the potential solutions, which range from eliminating meetings to moving to a four-day school week, with one day a week reserved for “asynchronous” learning. All of those topics and more will be on the table this week; the backdrop, Thiel and union negotiators say, is that the district risks a wave of midyear retirements leading to school closures due to staffing shortages if some relief isn’t agreed upon.
A Deadline for Renters
This week officially starts the 6-week pause in applications for pandemic-related rental assistance from the state, as officials work to clear a massive backlog. As KGW reports, more than 51,000 households have been approved for relief, but fewer than half of those have actually seen a check from the state. That means you’ve got only two more days to file your application—and likely weeks or months to wait until you hear whether you’ve been approved for assistance.
The IPO Boomlet Continues
After a long dry spell, Oregon and Oregon-adjacent companies have started going public these past few months, in a big way. Everyone knows about Dutch Bros, of course, but there’s also Expensify, ESS Tech, and others. Now, it's Vacasa’s turn. A pandemic-induced pause in travel at first forced layoffs there, in spring of 2020, but then vacation rentals went through the roof, as stir-crazy, hotel-spooked people sought ways to get out of their own four walls while still staying safe. This week, shareholders are scheduled to vote on Tuesday on a deal to take the company public via a special purpose acquisition committee, known as a SPAC, which allows them to bypass some of the financial outlay that comes with going public.