OPB looks back on the big questions we sought to answer in 2021


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As 2021 draws to a close, we look back on a year full of new things. There have been stories like the never-ending COVID-19 pandemic and the effort to draw the boundaries of a new congressional district for Oregon. And there have been surveys that we’ve dug deep into. Here are seven big questions from 2021 that OPB journalists have tried to answer in the year that draws to a close.

Second year of COVID: when and how will this pandemic end?

It’s no surprise that the coronavirus pandemic is at the top of this list. To date, more than 800,000 American lives have been claimed by COVID-19. While 2021 included vaccines for the majority of the general public, and more recently approved doses for young children and booster shots, we’ve also seen two worrisome variants – delta and omicron – and more waves of cases.

Medical professionals from Oregon Health & Science University load syringes with the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine January 10, 2021 in Portland, Ore., At a drive-thru vaccination clinic. The clinic was a partnership between SEIU and Oregon Health & Science University, to immunize Oregon’s 32,000 home health care workers and their patients.

Kristyna Wentz-Graff / OPB

The pandemic has continued to have a significant impact on Oregon residents in aspects of life ranging from education and jobs to overcrowded hospitals. Here’s a look at some of the biggest stories:

How do I register for the COVID-19 vaccine?

Returning to ‘normal’ in Oregon means gaining collective immunity against COVID-19

Governor Kate Brown holds ceremony to honor loss and resilience in Oregon as state reopens

Portland Public School Students Return for Day 1 of ‘Real School’

School Quarantines Provide Lessons to Portland Districts on the South Coast

Oregon’s biggest universities inundated with nerves, excitement, as students move in

More than a month later, private colleges in Oregon avoid COVID-19 outbreaks on campus

What you need to know about Monday’s mega-mandate for COVID-19 vaccinations

COVID questions: it has been a long time since we talked about testing

Q&A: What to know about the COVID vaccine for children

COVID Questions: Why ‘Natural Immunity’ Is Not Enough, Explained With Skittles

Oregon to implement ‘test-to-stay’ program in K-12 schools

Mask warrants help, but COVID-19 infection rates are determined by many factors

Unresolved Death Investigation: Who Killed Sean Kealiher, and What Justice Looks Like?

An illustration shows rows of people wearing ski masks on their faces.

An illustration shows rows of people wearing ski masks on their faces.

Jonathan / OPB case

In OPB’s 10-episode “Dying For A Fight” podcast, we explore the life and death of Sean Kealiher. While Kealiher, an anti-fascist and anarchist protester, was killed in Portland in 2019, his death remains unclear.

Listen to every episode here on OPB, on Spotify Or on Apple podcasts.

The Struggles of Oregon’s Largest City: What Should “Public Safety” Look Like in Portland?

A group of local business owners turned to hiring their own security firm, Echelon Protective Services, to investigate activities at a large campground on Southwest 12th Avenue and Southwest Taylor Street in Portland.  This outsourcing of public safety can be problematic as security companies are often under-regulated and they are accountable to their customers, not the public.

A group of local business owners turned to hiring their own security firm, Echelon Protective Services, to investigate activities at a large campground on Southwest 12th Avenue and Southwest Taylor Street in Portland. This outsourcing of public safety can be problematic as security companies are often under-regulated and they are accountable to their customers, not the public.

Kristyna Wentz-Graff / OPB

As protests dominated the news about Portland in 2020, the city and its government faced even more challenges in 2021, including a growing homeless crisis, a record number of homicides and a – city uncertain of its future. OPB reporter Rebecca Ellis covers Portland extensively, and in 2021 she investigated a hot topic.

Read his three-part series on the role and rise of private security in Portland:

The sudden and disturbing rise of a private police force in downtown Portland

Police and prosecutors wary of increased role for private security in downtown Portland

Portland city officials welcome private security firm investigations, though prosecutors are skeptical

Portland artist Victor Bizar Gomez paints his mural as part of the Portland Street Art Alliance's Mt. Whitney Blocks project.

Portland artist Victor Bizar Gomez paints his mural as part of the Portland Street Art Alliance’s Mt. Whitney Blocks project.

Sara Sjol / Courtesy

A trend of 2020 continued in 2021: the overthrow of public statues nationwide. Figures of generals and Confederate presidents were typical targets. The downed statues sparked conversations about the historical and current portrayal of individuals and groups in art – concerning both the creators and the subjects. In 2021, “Think Out Loud” and OPB’s Arts & Culture team dug deep.

Portland Opera Performance Focuses On Black Experience

Transgender, non-binary and gender non-conforming singers finding their voices

Portland photographer focuses on black cowboy culture

New grant to support Indigenous artists and culture

Never Look Away – A three story mural celebrating LGBTQ icons

The York Statue and the Value of Public Art

Emerging BIPOC, LGBTQ + and disabled artists find their home in the Downstairs gallery

A conversation about public art and monuments

A powerful new musical voice emerges from eastern Oregon

Portland Playhouse aims for “a space for us to be together” on and off the stage

Flags on the Senate floor at the Oregon State Capitol on May 18, 2021 in Salem, Oregon.

Flags on the Senate floor at the Oregon State Capitol on May 18, 2021 in Salem, Oregon.

Kristyna Wentz-Graff / OPB

In the spring of 2021, the Oregonians learned the state would win a sixth seat in Congress. Over the following months, the OPB Politics team kept a close eye on the debates surrounding the state’s new district proposals. What ensued included negotiations at the 11th hour, then a trial and a court battle.

Oregon to get 6th seat in Congress

What’s going on with Oregon’s redistribution effort?

Former Oregon Secretary of State Bev Clarno Files Lawsuit to Challenge Dems’ Congressional Redistribution Map

Behind-the-scenes deal sparks tensions as Oregon House Democrats jockey to replace President Tina Kotek

Judicial panel backs new districts of Oregon Democratic Congress

New Oregon Congress Map Now Final

a large group of people are walking behind a banner that some are carrying, which says: "OUR HOUSE IS ON FIRE"

Portland youth marched to City Hall on September 24, 2021 to urge policymakers to take action to reduce carbon emissions that contribute to climate change. It was the first such public gathering since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Monica Samayoa / OPB

Historic heat, wildfires and drought hit Oregon this summer, as temperatures are rising around the world. It was the focal point of international leaders this fall at the United Nations COP26. Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, Scotland. Throughout the year, OPB science and environment journalists searched for answers.

Extreme heat and drought hit Oregon

Marbled Murrelet Achieves Endangered Status in Oregon as Climate Change Threatens Survival

For some, the climate crisis is leading to anxiety, depression and grief

Bootleg, Biscuit, Rosland and Milli: Lessons from Past and Current Fires

Oregon scientist strives to extract more carbon that warms the planet from the atmosphere

PGE Accelerates Clean Energy Plans to Meet Tighter Carbon Pollution Standards

Global climate pledge could change Oregon’s relationship with natural gas

Recovery after fire depends on cascading snow cover, study finds

Oregon scientists call for more forest protection to fight climate change, save species

State approves new ‘more aggressive’ climate protection program

A very colorful illustration of many plant and animal species in Oregon, with the title "Overabundant" in the center

Aud Koch

Superabundant, OPB’s digital video series, debuted in six episodes in 2021. Each episode featured a local ingredient and sought to understand the history of regional food systems.

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