SALEM — Oregon FFA announced Thursday it is canceling this year's state convention in Redmond amid growing concern about the spread of COVID-19, a highly contagious strain of coronavirus that has triggered a global pandemic.
The convention was scheduled for March 19-22 at the Deschutes County Fair and Expo Center.
The decision comes as Gov. Kate Brown issued an executive order banning all public gatherings to curb transmission of the new coronavirus statewide. Schools are also closed.
As of Thursday afternoon, Oregon had 24 known cases of COVID-19 in 11 counties, though Brown said thousands of residents could become sick in the near future. There are 125,048 confirmed cases worldwide and 4,613 deaths, according to the World Health Association, which declared the virus a global pandemic on March 11.
"Nobody is immune to this virus," Brown said in a statement. "We are seeing cases across multiple counties and age groups, and in people exposed through different circumstances. It is time for us to do what we can to slow its spread and take care of one another."
The Oregon FFA State Convention routinely hosts thousands of members from across the state, participating in career development events, workshops and electing new state officers. This year's convention will not be rescheduled, though Shawn Dooley, CEO of the Oregon FFA Association, said the group is considering alternatives for holding activities.
"We are in dialogue with all of the stakeholders and looking at all of the alternatives," Dooley said. Details were not immediately available.
Local FFA advisors from across the state reacted to the news with disappointment, but also understanding.
Amy Krahn, who serves as the FFA advisor at Santiam Christian Schools in Adair Village, Ore., said she was planning on bringing nine students to the convention, including her own daughter, Gracie, who is running for one of six state officer seats.
"It definitely makes us wonder what's going to happen next," Krahn said. "Everyone is working with the best information that they have."
Trisha Smith, advisor for the Sandy FFA Chapter, said her Agricultural Issues team was poised to compete at the convention, delivering a presentation about solar farms on agricultural land. They were planning to practice in front of several groups in Salem on Thursday morning before being called off by the school's principal.
"I think there are a lot of kids who are disappointed, especially the older kids who are seniors," Smith said. "But I'm sure the state association will find a way to remedy as much of the situation as possible."
Marty Campbell, advisor for Pendleton FFA and president-elect of the Oregon Agriculture Teacher's Association, said he began reaching out to FFA leaders Wednesday night upon hearing about the governor's directive. While they discussed a few potential solutions, Campbell said he like everyone else is awaiting the next steps.
"This bunch of teachers and students are about as resilient as you will find," Campbell said. "I teach my students all the time that we don't complain about problems, we solve them. That's what we're going to do."