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Rogue Valley dealt with COVID-19, fires ... again

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In 2021, COVID-19 surged as vaccines were made available, rebuilding from the September 2020 fires got underway, and we had one of the hottest summers on record.

Here is a look back at 10 of the top stories from the past year.

Nurses describe working in the ICU
Jamie Lusch / Mail Tribune Holly McEwan, RN ICU nurse, left and Josh Eckroth, RN ICU nurse, treat COVID-19 patients at Asante Rogue Regional Medical Center on Tuesday.
Jamie Lusch / Mail Tribune Justin Bullen, of central Point, receives a Moderna vaccine at the Jackson County Expo on Monday.
Protesters gather outside the Jackson County Expo before a public hearing concerning the Jordan Cove Pipeline Tuesday. Jamie Lusch / Mail Tribune

The delta variant surge in the late summer hit the Rogue Valley hard, with 200 or more COVID-19 patients hospitalized at a time. Without available beds, hospitals were forced to delay surgeries and treatments that weren’t coronavirus-related.

Nurses who work in the ICU at Asante Rogue Regional Medical Center described the front lines to the Mail Tribune on Aug 31.

“With COVID-19, the lung injury is so severe. It’s like nothing I’ve ever seen,” said Holly McEwan, a registered nurse.

With 20 patients on ventilators at the time, hospital workers had reached a breaking point from having to spend 12-16 hours a day in full personal protective equipment to keep them alive.

“In the whole hospital, we’re doing everything we can for your family members, and we need help right now. We need people to find it in their hearts to get vaccinated and wear a mask,” McEwan said. “I don’t want the community to be as sad as the nurses are, but I want them to understand.”

Vaccines available

As the pandemic entered its second year in 2021, Jackson County teetered between the extreme and high risk categories, leaving restaurants and indoor entertainment venues in limbo. Vaccines offered hope.

Health care workers were first in line for the vaccine in late 2020, and by mid-April 2021, all Oregonians 16 and older were eligible to receive their two dose Pfizer or Moderna shots or the single-injection Johnson & Johnson version.

Jordan Cove dies

A saga that lasted more than a decade ended in early December, when Pembina pulled the plug on a proposed 229-mile pipeline that many Southern Oregon property owners had staunchly opposed.

Originally proposed in 2009 to import liquefied natural gas from Asia, project backers had a change of plans a few years later that would export Canadian gas to Asia.

Pembina said it had agreements for use of the majority of land along the route, But landowners who didn’t want the 3-foot-diameter pipeline running through their land feared they would be forced through eminent domain.

2020 Labor Day fire updates

On May 8 — eight months after the Almeda fire — Talent couple Carole and Alan Balzer made news as the first people to move into their rebuilt home.

The three-bedroom home has tall ceilings and a view of Roxy Ann Peak and is a short distance from downtown.

An estimated 2,500 residences were lost in the Almeda fire, while around 150 structures burned in the South Obenchain fire.

TID early shutoff

In the middle of a drought and with reservoirs at historically low levels, the Talent Irrigation District was shutoff on July 19. Typically the TID flows for three months from June through August. In 2021, it was running for six weeks.

The shutoff date came well before the harvest season for hemp, marijuana, wine grapes and pears.

It could take as many as six years to refill the reservoirs, or as few as “two to three years if we receive well above normal inflow years like we experienced in 1993, 1995 or 2016,” U.S. Bureau of Reclamation Civil Engineer Jon Rocha told the Mail Tribune.

Fire season

After a record 160 days, fire season ended Oct. 20 for Oregon Department of Forestry Southwest Oregon District. Although it is the longest fire season in recorded history, officials say it was successful.

The district put out 337 fires totaling 389 acres on the private and U.S. Bureau of Land Management property it protects in Jackson and Josephine counties.

The largest was the 60 acre North River Road fire near the town of Rogue River.

115 degrees

Of course it was a Monday when Medford tied its all-time heat record.

On June 28, the local thermostats hit 115 degrees for the first time in 75 years. Thankfully, it didn’t last long. The wind picked up and knocked the temperature down to a breezy 109.

Vaccine mandate

When Gov. Brown mandated that all health care workers, first responders and teachers be vaccinated for COVID-19 by Oct. 18, a lot of outsiders believed it would cause a mass exodus of Jackson County workers, even causing the board of commissioners to declare a state of emergency over the mandate.

When Oct. 18 arrived, Asante said 87% of its employees were in compliance, while Providence claimed 94% of its workers had received a vaccine or the required medical or religious exemption.

Area schools had a larger percentage of compliance. Of Medford School District’s more than 1,500 workers, only 32 did not receive an exemption or vaccine.

True crime

Lovers of true crime were treated to Southern Oregon stories on TV and other media.

The Oxygen network show Snapped featured two Jackson County murder tales. First, the 2015 trial of Susan Monica, who murdered two handymen on her Wimer property and fed them to her pigs. Then months later the show documented Tucker Reed killing her uncle in 2016 in Ruch.

The Reed case was also on NBC’s Dateline TV show and podcast.

COVID-19 Restrictions

Thanks to enough Oregonians receiving a shot of the vaccine, Gov. Kate Brown fully reopened the state in late June, dropping distancing and mask wearing-requirements as daily statewide case counts dipped.

It was short-lived, though. When the delta variant surged through the population during the summer, the governor reinstated the mask requirements on Aug. 13.