SALEM, Ore. -- Gov. Kate Brown delivered the 2021 State of the State address on Thursday.
The speech comes as the state continues to face unique struggles due to the pandemic, social unrest, and the wildfires that happened the past fall.
It was one year ago today that Gov. Brown established an incident management team to prepare for COVID-19 to arrive in Oregon. Brown said she knew the state had to be prepared.
The speech detailed the state's response to the arrival of COVID-19 in 2020 and what came next, including the release of the Ready Schools, Safe Learners guidance.
Brown also touched on the protests that took place over the summer. She said people of color are disproportionately affected by the struggles the state is facing.
"We must recognize that going back to the ‘way things were’ will not move us forward. Every difficult turn of this past year has only proven this point, further exacerbating existing disparities for Oregon’s Black, Indigenous, Latino, Latina, Latinx, Asian, Pacific Islander, Native American, and Tribal communities,” said Governor Brown. “The first step to creating opportunity is recognizing that racism is endemic to our systems, impacting every part of our culture and our economy. I am committed to ensuring that the world we build as we emerge from this last year is a more equitable one.”
When fires swept through the state in September 2020, entire towns were wiped off the map, Brown said. Nine people died, and more than 4,000 homes were lost.
The second wave of the pandemic hit last fall, just as the state was reeling from the recent wildfires.
Dr. Antwon Chavis, a pediatrician at OHSU Doernbecher Children’s hospital, spoke to the challenges that Oregon children in particular have faced due to those events.
“I think it’s important to acknowledge that comprehensive distance learning is not working for a lot of kiddos, and it’s not a long-term solution for our kids,” said Dr. Chavis. “As pediatricians, we can all think of examples of children that are having to log in to distance learning from the parking lots of their school because they don’t have high-speed internet at home, or kids with ADHD or Autism that just are not able to engage with a computer screen all day long."
"We have families that are refugee families, with single parents, and the children aren’t able to engage in their own distance learning and understanding of the education system, and the parents can’t help them either because of language barriers," Chavis continued. "The pandemic overall is disproportionately impacting families of color, and I am worried because I feel we are at significant risk of really widening the racial disparity of educational outcomes.”
Brown compared Oregon's efforts to a marathon, saying that we're not in a race against others, but ourselves and time. While we can see the finish line, the race is far from over, the governor added.