Wyden's virtual Town Hall

Oregon's U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden addresses constituents in Northeast Oregon during a virtual town hall Thursday.

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UNION COUNTY — Oregon's U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden told residents of Northeast Oregon the county needs to ramp up testing for the coronavirus. He also urged the use of face masks and the like to curb spread of the virus. 

The Democrat held a virtual town hall Thursday afternoon for residents of Umatilla, Union, Wallowa and Morrow counties and addressed an array of questions and issues, with the pandemic topping that list. He told viewers he is working to get support for the new stimulus package for small business and individuals. 

"I can only imagine the frustrations in these northeastern Oregon communities," Wyden said.

Wyden said he supports the research and production of a vaccination, but what is most important to him is that it is affordable for everyone in Oregon. And more important than a vaccination, the senator said, is testing. 

"This country needs to ramp up testing because it is a fundamental pillar of getting the economy to reopen," Wyden said. "We all want to reopen the economy. We just want to make sure it is done in a safe way." 

One suggestion Wyden addressed was in supporting small pharmacies by allowing them to administer tests, rather than depending solely on government contracts or large pharmaceutical companies. He also discussed a plan to give $5 million to rural hospitals across Oregon to increase testing abilities. 

Several people asked about the spread of misinformation and those who remain unwilling to follow government requirements. 

The best way to combat misinformation, Wyden said, is to make the issue of COVID-19 more personal. By explaining to those who do not trust the media or government or health officials why you personally wear a mask and social distance, he believes the message will be better received. 

"We need to step up and deal with important health care information," Wyden said. "As someone who specialized in health care, these basic precautions, wearing a mask, social distancing and good hygiene, (are) not a Democrat or Republican issue. It is just good basic steps to take. We need to do what we can to convince people it is the right step to take and lead by example." 

Mail-in voting 

Patricia Kennedy of Union County asked Wyden what is happening in the fight to allow mail-in voting nationwide.

Wyden was one of the first senators to win his election through mail-in votes. He claims President Donald Trump, who has been vehemently against nationally allowing mail-in voting, submits his votes through the mail along with many of his cabinet members. Multiple sources, including the Los Angeles Times, note Trump voted by absentee ballot.

Wyden praised the efforts of those pushing to get mail-in voting as it helps prevent a public health crisis from occurring by having less people go to the polls. 

Meat processing

House Bill 4206, now in the Senate, authorizes the Oregon Department of Agriculture to adopt rules establishing a program of state inspection for the processing and sale of meat products from amenable species. That would mean inspection of meat at a state — rather than federal — level, streamlining the meat processing industry, according to Curtis Martin from North Powder. 

Wyden said he is excited to see the reduction of barriers to meat production at the state level and stated his commitment to see it done at the federal level. 

"Oregon really ought to have its own meat inspection program," Wyden said. 

This was Wyden's fifth virtual town hall.

This article originally ran on lagrandeobserver.com.

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