UPDATE (7:21 p.m. PT) — The Oregon Employment Department is working to streamline unemployment claims for gig workers and small business owners through a new processing claims center.

In a conference call Wednesday with Gov. Kate Brown, workforce and labor policy adviser Christian Gaston said the system will be in place within the next two weeks.

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“We’re on track to reach about 800 people in the employment processing claims center … folks are going to be in there on May 1," Gaston said. "On the pandemic unemployment assistance program for those gig workers and small business owners, that program, they’re doing the work … to get that into place right now. That’s going to be a little bit of a different processing system, so hopefully it will move a little bit quicker once it’s in place.”

The 800-person staff represents an enormous expansion in just a matter of weeks, as COVID-19 has spread through the country, with governments shuttering numerous businesses.

Gaston said that the department is “basically up to date” with “simple” claims which have few complicating factors, but “complex” claims are still bogging down the system.

Claims for gig workers and small business owners will start going through the new system in about a week and a half.

“Hopefully that’ll move a little bit quicker once that’s in place,” Gaston said.

Editor's Note: This story was amended to include a more complete quote from Christian Gaston, in order to clarify the distinct actions being taken by the Employment Department.

Employee at Portland Whole Foods dies from coronavirus

Whole Foods Market confirmed Wednesday that an employee at its Pearl District location in Portland has died from coronavirus.

The store does not have a prepared statement and is not offering details out of respect for the person’s privacy. The company said it is providing grief counseling to any employees who need it.

Oregon reports 57 new cases Wednesday

State and local health officials reported 57 new coronavirus diagnoses in Oregon on Wednesday afternoon. That brings Oregon’s confirmed case total to 2,059.

Seventy-eight people in Oregon are known to have died after contracting COVID-19.

Poll shows clear stay-at-home support

A poll released Wednesday shows, despite an upcoming protest and calls to ease restrictions, the vast majority of Oregonians support stay at home orders to protect against outbreaks of COVID-19.

Portland-based DHM Research said its April 17-21 survey of 900 Oregonians showed 82% support restrictions that have helped flatten the disease curve in the state. Just 16% of Oregonians said they opposed the orders.

Some central and eastern Oregon politicians have called on Gov. Kate Brown to provide a clear road map for easing aspects of her stay at home orders by early next month. Those government officials said the orders have damaged the economy, and need to be eased in the coming weeks.

But even in those communities east of the Cascades, 54% of people polled said they “strongly” support the governor’s orders. Another 21% said they “somewhat” supported the orders.

Bend extends neighborhood greenways amid coronavirus

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The city of Bend announced Wednesday it is extending its network of Neighborhood Greenways to provide more outdoor space for people to practice social distancing.

The city is temporarily cutting off some streets to through-traffic to create “Stay Healthy” streets.

“The City is asking drivers to be extremely aware of more people walking and bicycling on all city streets, but particularly on Neighborhood Greenways,” Bend’s Transportation & Mobility director David Abbas said in a statement.

The city plans to install traffic control signs Wednesday and Thursday to reduce traffic speed and volume on specific streets.

OHSU launches coronavirus hotline

Oregon Health & Science University Wednesday announced a new toll-free hotline for Oregonians seeking guidance about coronavirus symptoms and care. The hotline, called the Connected Care Center, is staffed by OHSU registered nurses and other clinicians working from home.

The hotline will be open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. seven days a week at 833-OHSU-CCC (or 833-647-8222).

Oregonians who don’t have a primary care provider are urged to use the hotline. Health care clinicians who are seeking advice about patients with COVID-19 are also encouraged to call.

Nurses can evaluate symptoms over the phone and, if necessary, can direct callers to a video visit with a doctor, said Eric Herman, chief primary care and population health officer for OHSU Health, in a statement.

The hotline is funded by a $1.6 million gift from the Andrew and Corey Morris-Singer Foundation.


Oregon COVID-19 Map

Jacob Fenton, The Accountability Project at the Investigative Reporting Workshop 

Washington death toll nears 700

Clark County Public Health on Wednesday confirmed seven new cases of the novel coronavirus in Southwest Washington. There are now 313 confirmed cases there.

To date, 16 people in Clark County are known to have died of COVID-19.

The latest available data from the Washington Department of Health reports 12,494 diagnosed cases of COVID-19 and 692 related deaths.

A senior year cut short

Maxine Latterell is a senior at Franklin High School in Portland. Like every senior in the state, her final year has been cut short by COVID-19. She won’t be able to go to prom, hug her teachers goodbye or walk across the graduation stage. For Latterell, she’s also dealing with the added emotions — and stress — of being the student representative on the PPS board. Listen to her story in the latest installment of our "Postcards From The Pandemic" series.

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