Best of the West Special Edition: Reimagining wildland firefighting; meeting the challenge of distance learning in Oregon; live music’s uncertain future

The Western Governors' Association keeps you updated on the latest COVID-19 related news in the West. Here are the top stories for the week starting May 11, 2020. Photo courtesy of Montana Public Radio/INCIWEB.

Reimagining Wildland Firefighting: As wildfire season returns in the West, an interagency coalition made up of federal officials working in close tandem with state and local representatives has released a series of broad guidelines aimed at protecting firefighters from the novel coronavirus. According to AP News, “the standard approach to fighting fires means bringing in large numbers of firefighters from different places, housing them together in often unsanitary conditions, then redeploying them to new locations.” With the advent of COVID-19, officials are looking to transition to smaller camp sites, increased PPE usage, and bagged meals instead of buffet-style dining arrangements. Learn more.

Challenges with Distance Learning: Schools across the country are embracing distance learning to curb the spread of COVID-19. With this new dynamic, however, comes a new set of challenges, especially for those in disadvantaged circumstances. “It’s very easy to fall behind — that’s the one thing that kind of scares me,” Zahira Desphy, an Oregon high school student, told Oregon Public Broadcasting. “I’ll miss maybe two calls, and I’ll be maybe two or three assignments behind already. It’s more demanding.” The Gateway to College program at Mt. Hood Community College seeks to help high school students in the Beaver State adjust to their new circumstances, with a focus on individuals who are behind in credits or otherwise disengaged. Read more about their efforts.

Street Closures: Many streets in Seattle have been temporarily closed to through traffic, as part of Washington Gov. Jay Inslee’s stay-at-home order, to give pedestrians more space to walk while maintaining proper social distance. Even as the order is lifted, however, nearly 20 miles of roadway will remain permanently closed, reports Governing Magazine. “Our rapid response to the challenges posed by COVID-19 has been transformative in a number of places across the city,” said Seattle Department of Transportation Director Sam Zimbabwe. “Some of the responses are going to be long lasting, and we need to continue to build out a transportation system that enables people of all ages and abilities to bike and walk across the city.” Here’s what those changes could look like.

A Rare Opportunity: Scientists in the Pacific Northwest are taking advantage of a decrease in marine traffic driven by COVID-19 to study whether or not whale populations are benefiting from the lull. According to Oregon Public Broadcasting, noise from ocean vessels has been considered a major factor in dwindling orca populations, along with pollution and a limited food supply. “From a killer whale’s perspective, not having fast-moving boats around like recreational boats, that might be quite beneficial,” said oceanographer Scott Veirs of Seattle, Washington. Specifically, researchers are tracking whales’ stress levels and comparing them with data from pre-coronavirus measurements to look for noteworthy changes. Discover how they plan to use this information to bolster conservation efforts.

Concert Venues: Although some states are beginning to ease their respective stay-at-home orders, bans on large gatherings remain in place, meaning that the future of live music is still uncertain. Looking forward, some venue owners are toying with the idea of small, socially distanced shows, according to Denverite. “But is it financially viable to play for 500 bucks if your band normally gets paid four or five grand to play?” said Scott Happel, co-owner of the Oriental Theater in Denver, Colorado. In an effort to garner government support, approximately 1,200 independent venue owners from across the country have formed the National Independent Venue Association, calling on music fans to lobby their local lawmakers for financial support. Find out what they hope to accomplish.

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