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Rural Oregon faces unique challenges from coronavirus outbreak, says publisher

The effects of the coronavirus restrictions on daily life can be vastly different east of the Cascades, says Malheur County newspaper publisher Les Zaitz.

VALE, Ore. — The effects of the coronavirus restrictions on daily life are evident if you live in the Portland area or Willamette Valley.

But from a standpoint of geography, the impact is distinctly different across the Cascades, Les Zaitz, publisher and owner of Malheur Enterprise in Vale, Oregon, said during an interview with KGW on Thursday morning.

The former investigative reporter for the Oregonian, who lives on a ranch outside John Day, Oregon, sat down for a chat Thursday morning with KGW's #SunriseExtra crew to talk about the contrast.

Watch the full show here:

Here are some excerpts of what Zaitz, also founder and editor of the Salem Reporter, had to say:

  • Malheur County is conservative, Republican and there is a distrust of government in general and Gov. Kate Brown in particular. A call for social distancing is met with skepticism, though parents with children have called out to support ways to limit the spread of the virus.
  • In Malheur County, onion farming is king. Now it's planting season. Farmers wonder whether to proceed and what to do with the ones in storage. Will workers have jobs in packing plants, a prize income?
  • What if hundreds of pot smokers descended into your neighborhood every day, all day? That's happening in Ontario, just across the border from Idaho. The legal pot shops are causing a social distancing headache for city officials.
  • Are rural hospitals overrun with COVID-19 cases? Not yet. In fact, there are only five confirmed cases of coronavirus in Malheur County. But what's really hurting is the temporary elimination of elective surgeries, a major source of income for the medical centers in small towns.
  • How do you bridge the urban/rural divide? People on both sides spend too much talking at each other and not listening to each other. Urban solutions may not work in a rural area. There can be two solutions to one problem.

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