The Marion County Board of Commissioners unanimously approved a plan to use Woodburn's Super 8 Motel as an isolation center for residents who may be infected or exposed to COVID-19.
The 3-0 decision at a meeting Wednesday, June 24, was billed as a measure to both protect the county from further exposure to the novel coronavirus and a necessary step to Phase 2 reopening.
"This is a condition of us being in Phase 2," Commissioner Colm Willis said. "From (Gov. Kate Brown's) perspective, if you don't have this, then you don't get to enter Phase 2 and you don't get to be back in business."
The contract is set for nine months at a cost of $2.1 million, to be paid for through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act. According to Ryan Matthews, interim administrator for Marion County Health and Human Services, HHS is coordinating with FEMA for reimbursement of any costs that exceed CARES Act dollars.
Matthews said the isolation center would provide support and services to individuals in the county who have been exposed to COVID-19 or are presumptive cases and need to self-isolate to keep themselves away from general population.
"In working with our epidemiology team, this is an invaluable resource that we believe really helps us in our fight against the spread of COVID-19, and we think this is going to have a tremendous positive impact on our community and overall safety," Matthews said.
Other intended populations include individuals at high-risk of contracting the disease, including migrant and seasonal farm workers, as well as those living in multigenerational housing who are unable to self-isolate.
An additional population includes five or six individuals serving time within the Department of Corrections who are scheduled for parole in July and need to quarantine for 14 days before returning to the community.
"We have some of our correctional institutions that are deemed endemic facilities, which means COVID-19 is fairly rampant in those areas, and they require that people be quarantined for 14 days before heading into a shelter or whatever their other destination would be," Matthews said. "Once their stay is over, we'll be taking them to the community in which they reside. We will be providing transportation to anybody that's in the hotel. As they depart the hotel, they won't be left in that community to fend for themselves."
"This is not a prison," Willis said. "No one who is serving a sentence will spend time in this hotel. The people who are spending time in this hotel are free men and women. Whether they have served a sentence in the past or not is irrelevant. They are still American citizens and they have rights just like anybody else."
Individuals lodged in the isolation center must sign a contract that they will remain sequestered in the facility and not enter the surrounding community, which includes several nearby assisted-living facilities and a large senior community at Woodburn Estates & Golf.
"We have built enough supports that there should be no reason to leave the room," Commissioner Sam Brentano said. "We will have 24/7 security on site, and we have been working with our sheriff's office to make sure we have deputies and parole officers there around the clock to address any needs and to follow up with any individual who would violate the rules, and they would forfeit their ability to stay in the hotel."
In addition to security, hotel staff will be onsite to service the rooms, and the county has arranged for an onsite nurse to monitor systems and take temperatures. Laundry service will be provided as well as food delivery and a cleaning service to deeply sanitize rooms between lodgings.
The proposal of the facility has been met with pushback from a community that is among the hardest hit in Marion County by the COVID-19 pandemic. Woodburn City Councilor Eric Morris voiced his objection to the proposal on Facebook after county commissioners failed to inform the city of Woodburn of the plan until less than a week before the vote.
"I won't ignore the blindspot of not communicating," Commissioner Kevin Cameron said. "I want to clarify that I probably should have reached out to the leadership and communicated earlier to them what this is and what this is not."
County commissioners voiced that the decision, while difficult, was necessary and that there was no alternative.
"This is one of those cases where there are only two doors," Willis said. "One door is people who have been exposed to COVID or are COVID-positive go into homeless shelters and potentially spread this disease to hundreds of people in our homeless shelters or on our streets or in our neighborhoods.
"The other option is we have a place where people who don't have a place to stay and be safe can go and be safe under supervision with medical staff and support, and we can make sure that those people aren't spreading the disease to people in the community," he said.
The Marion County commissioners had legal authority to make this decision after declaring a state of emergency on March 16, according to legal counsel Jane Vetto.
"As part of that resolution, they resolved that emergency procurements of goods and services are authorized," Vetto said to the commissioners. "This procurement is pursuant to your emergency powers."
Prior to approval, Cameron noted that an added benefit to the proposal would be increased tax revenue coming to Woodburn during a time in which tourism dollars are in steep decline. The city of Woodburn has a 9% Tourism Room Tax on hotel lodging that gets paid into the city's general fund. That equates to $189,000 of the $2.1 million contract.
"You show me a hotel in the state of Oregon that has 100% occupancy over nine months," Cameron said.
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