Aurora research facility moving slowly in reopening
For Director Mike Bondi and the crew at the North Willamette Research and Extension Center in Aurora, it has been a long haul since the beginning days of the COVID-19 pandemic and the lockdowns that followed.
No one had seen anything like it and the past 16 months have challenged the staff. Although it's not necessarily over yet, Bondi and his staff are starting to get back to something that looks more like normal.
With the Gov. Kate Brown loosening restrictions just before the July 4 holiday weekend, the OSU Extension offices and other off-campus locations throughout Oregon have begun to reopen to the public this month.
Here's an update on the current status at NWREC, plans for the usual summer events, and what's ahead for the center.
"The landscape of rules and regulations around COVID is ever-changing," Bondi said. "We appreciate that there are still concerns about possible spikes in infection rates and hospitalizations that may result due to reopening, COVID variants becoming more common, and still a significant portion of the population not vaccinated. We will continue to do our best to manage through these situations."
• NWREC remains closed to the public at this time. They are doing a "soft" reopening right now. This may change in the coming weeks, but is driven by the need to replace the HVAC system in the main office building. As a result, there will be more limited use of the offices, meeting rooms and any other indoor spaces at this time. The HVAC system is antiquated, has very limited outside air intake, and needs to be upgraded to meet OSHA COVID guidelines.
• All faculty and staff continue to work as they have for the past 16 months. They have access to laboratories and their offices, but are asked to work remotely as much as possible due to the HVAC situation. Faculty and staff continue to work with grower cooperators at area farms. Faculty and staff can be reached by phone, email and text. See NWREC's website for contact information. Private in-person consultations at area farms or at NWREC are possible by appointment.
• In-person outdoor educational events and activities are now possible again at NWREC and off-site field locations. Local COVID restrictions must always be observed. Indoor meetings, classes or gatherings at NWREC will not be scheduled until the HVAC renovation is completed, hopefully by September.
• This year's Strawberry Field Day was canceled in June. The Caneberry Field Day and Blueberry Field Day — both in July — were hosted at NWREC and drew smaller crowds. The NWREC Community Open House (July) was canceled. The annual Harvest Dinner in September is tentative at this time. Generally, the plan is to "ease back into" outreach and education to make sure that NWREC staff can offer events safely before the doors are thrown totally open.
"These next few to several months will continue to be interesting for all of us. We do appreciate your patience while we begin reopening and returning to more normal activities," Bondi said.
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