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Businesses get creative to cope with crisis

The days of dropping off your car for repairs at Kelly’s Automotive Service are over — at least for now.

Workers are going out to pick up customers’ cars to keep the public out of the company’s two shops in Medford and Grants Pass. They put plastic over the seats and steering wheels and sanitize each vehicle.

After fixing cars, they return vehicles to customers, pull off the plastic and sanitize each car again.

“We’re really going to great lengths to keep our customers safe and keep our employees safe as well. I can’t compare this to any other time that I’ve seen in my lifetime,” said Greg Unger, service advisor for Kelly’s Automotive Service in Medford.

The COVID-19 pandemic has businesses rethinking how they operate — assuming they can stay open at all.

On Thursday, the Oregon Employment Department issued shocking new unemployment claim numbers.

The department received 4,900 unemployment claims during the week that started March 8.

For the week that started March 15, more than 76,500 claims flooded in.

“During the first three days of the week of March 22, initial claims have been tracking at record levels again,” the department said.

Just a few months ago, Oregon had record low unemployment.

Most of the unemployment claims have been triggered by layoffs and reduced hours related to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Oregon Employment Department said.

Local businesses have raced to launch work-from-home arrangements for employees when possible and are practicing social distancing at sites where employees have to be on the job.

People who still have jobs are doing what they can to help businesses stay afloat.

Medford City Manager Brian Sjothun recently encouraged city staff members to support local business impacted by the crisis.

Using police officer contributions, the Medford Police Association just bought $2,000 in gift cards from local restaurants that have remained open for takeout and delivery.

And they aren’t using the gift cards to keep themselves fueled up with food.

Police officers on patrol will distribute the 92 gift cards to individuals and families they connect with out in the community, the Medford Police Department said.

The Chamber of Medford & Jackson County has launched a Southern Oregon Strong campaign to support and provide information to business. Information is at medfordchamber.com. People can also post tips, ways to help, business updates and other information on Facebook at facebook.com/groups/southernoregonstrong.

Businesses and nonprofit groups are finding ways to stay connected to customers and clients.

Daryl Griggs of United Martial Arts Academy normally has more than 80 students training at his Medford location. He’s now doing virtual classes to keep people sweating.

His high school seniors face missing out on school spring sports, graduation ceremonies, the prom and other memorable events.

“I’m going through my list and checking on each of my families,” Griggs said.

He isn’t just teaching the discipline, strength and mental toughness that come with martial arts. Griggs is inviting kids to schedule 15- to 20-minute phone calls with him to vent and share their feelings.

He’s afraid suicide rates will go up among youth.

“They need you to reach out to them,” Griggs said.

As of 2018, suicide took over the top spot as the No. 1 killer of youth ages 10-24 in Oregon, surpassing deaths from car crashes and other accidents.

Serina Pori of the mental health organization Family Solutions said suicide rates are on the rise. Family Solutions serves children and families in Jackson and Josephine counties.

She urged everyone to be aware of others who seem down. Although it may seem awkward, ask a person directly, “Are you thinking about taking your own life?”

“When people are in a dark space, they need connection,” Pori said.

Help the person get connected to mental health services.

If you or someone you know is experiencing a mental health crisis, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text 273TALK to 839863. The Spanish language line is 1-888-628-9454.

Youthline, a teen-to-teen crisis and help line, is available daily from 4-10 p.m. Call 1-877-968-8491 or text teen2teen to 839863 or chat at www.oregonyouthline.org.

If a suicide attempt seems imminent or a suicide attempt has been made, call 911 immediately.

To help the Southern Oregon community show its support for each other and offer encouragement, the Medford embroidery and screenprinting business Master Stitch is making “Oregon Strong” and “Southern Oregon Strong” hats and T-shirts and other inspirational apparel.

New orders for the company’s regular products have flat-lined.

“We’ve got about a week of work left on orders that came in,” said Lois Malone.

After that, the future for employees is uncertain, she said.

Brandon Kidwell, who does website makeovers, is helping businesses update their sites and post new messages for customers about coronavirus-related closures and changes.

With weddings and other festive occasions canceled or postponed, DJ Veach is offering to do voiceover work remotely, such as updating company phone messages.

Musicians who are out of work are recording music for commercials and finally spending time on their own personal albums.

Soul Canyon Training and Development co-owner Mary Hambleton, a business coach, has offered to help people working from home figure out how to navigate a new world where the whole family is crammed together.

Kids are trying to get their online homework done while adults are trying to concentrate on their jobs. Couples and families need to divide housework fairly, accommodate everyone’s sometimes-competing goals and communicate respectfully, Hambleton said.

Although the outbreak is now easing in China, the city of Xi’an reported a record high divorce rate this month, likely because couples were on lockdown or in quarantine together, officials in that nation said.

Rogue Valley residents who are hunkered down in their houses are noticing the home improvement projects they want to tackle, said Scott Preston of Lippert’s Carpet One in Medford.

The flooring store is doing extra cleaning and allowing customers inside as long as they stay at least six feet apart in compliance with social distancing guidelines, he said.

“Now there’s more time to finish projects as people are nesting at home,” Preston said.

Nonprofit groups like Compass House for people living with mental illness are reaching out to clients remotely and holding virtual meetings.

The Family Nurturing Center previously got a $10,000 grant from the Carpenter Foundation to upgrade its technology. The upgrades have proved vital as the center goes to work-at-home arrangements and virtual support for kids and families at risk, said Executive Director Lisa O’Connor.

“We would be a mess right now without that. We’re more thankful for that gesture than ever,” she said.

O’Connor is looking for ways she can help local businesses and show her gratitude and support for others during the crisis.

She bought a $150 gift card from Outsider Coffee and asked the baristas to use it to cover the costs of drinks for essential workers like child welfare workers, flight attendants and others who drive up to the new coffee stand in downtown Medford.

“Anyone can do that,” O’Connor said.

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Vickie Aldous at 541-776-4486 or valdous@rosebudmedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @VickieAldous.

Jamie Lusch / Mail TribuneKelly’s Automotive Shop Manager Greg Unger sterilizes a car Thursday in Medford.