Portland, OR

Portland Daily Round Up: Local officials concerned about omicron variant, OHA to pay pharmacies to give COVID vaccines

Emily Scarvie

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By Emily Scarvie

(PORTLAND, Ore.) Hello Portlanders! It's Tuesday, Nov. 30 - Here's your daily round up of all the news happening in the City of Roses.

1. Local health officials say it's only a matter of time before the omicron variant reaches Oregon

Amid the emergence of the COVID-19 omicron variant and world health experts labeling it a variant of concern, local health officials say it’s only a matter of time before the variant reaches Oregon.

“I think we do a lot of predicting the future based on past experience,” Dr. William Messer, with Oregon Health and Sciences University, told KGW. “Every other variant has made it here over time and I think it’s highly likely this variant will make it here as well.”

Dr. Dean Sidelinger, Oregon’s state epidemiologist, issued a statement Monday stating that he’s concerned about the new variant, saying in part, “We expect it will be in the county in the coming days due to its reported high transmissibility.”

The omicron variant was first identified in South Africa but has since spread to Europe, Asia and Australia. It’s unclear how transmissible it is in comparison to other variants, but health experts say COVID-19 vaccines remain the best form of protection.

2. OHA offering to pay independent pharmacies to administer COVID vaccines

In an effort to boost vaccination rates, the Oregon Health Authority is offering independent pharmacies across the state $35 for every dose of COVID-19 vaccine they administer. According to OHA, 79% of adults in Oregon have received at least one vaccine dose. The program will also address staff shortages at pharmacies.

To qualify for the program, pharmacies need to meet standards for “vaccine equity,” including multilingual COVID-19 vaccination signs, “expanded vaccine-related counseling aimed at boosting vaccine confidence" and “a plan for ongoing evaluation and continuous improvement to ensure equitable access,” according to OHA.

Corporate-owned pharmacies aren’t eligible for the payments, but can receive vaccine assistance from the state.

3. TriMet offering $2,500 hiring bonus amid labor shortage

Amid a national labor shortage, TriMet is now offering a $2,500 hiring bonus to new bus drivers who join the agency. According to TriMet, the training period for new drivers is seven weeks and no experience is needed to apply. The starting pay for drivers is around $21 an hour. After 11 months, drivers receive guaranteed pay increases every four months until they’re making $33 an hour.

“Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, TriMet provided more than 97 million trips each year,” the agency said. “That takes a lot of buses and trains. It’s why we’re hiring new team members, as we safely connect people with their community, help ease traffic congestion and reduce air pollution.”

4. Washington County Sheriff's Office implements bait packages to prevent porch thefts

In an effort to deter mail theft this holiday season, detectives with the Washington County Sheriff’s Office are using bait packages to catch porch pirates. The sheriff’s office puts out bait packages year-round, but even more between Thanksgiving and Christmas, when there are typically more thefts.

“Basically we take one of our GPS trackers, tuck it into some consumer electronics that look really good, we put that in a box and we put it on someone’s porch, we have the postal service deliver it for us,” Det. Patrick Altiere told FOX 12.

The program started around six years ago and package thefts dropped by 10%, according to Det. Altiere. Despite the program, Portland is ranked as the seventh metro city where package thieves strike most by Safewise.

Det. Altiere said the best way to prevent theft is to minimize how long packages are on your porch by making sure you’re home, asking a neighbor to grab packages or having them delivered to the front desk if you live in an apartment.

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