Warning Week: Malheur County could be moving to High Risk if case rate doesn’t decrease

After bypassing the High Risk level last week, current numbers indicate that Malheur County could be moved back a step when the state adjusts its risk level summary for Oregon counties next week. Such a change would result in a decrease in occupancy allowed at eating and drinking establishments, shopping centers, entertainment venues, gyms, and other indoor and outdoor services and activities.

The risk levels are part of a four-tier system used by the Oregon Health Authority to help counties reduce the spread of COVID-19. The system uses testing data to determine risk and provide guidance on public safety measures, such as occupancy limits and closures. Last Friday, after meeting the criteria to move two levels from Extreme to Moderate Risk, many of Malheur County’s businesses were allowed to open for indoor service for the first time since the risk level system was implemented following a statewide two-week freeze in November.

Based on population, Malheur County’s risk level is determined by two indicators: case rate (number of cases per 100,000 people) and test positivity rate. This week’s report, which can be accessed from this webpage, shows that from Feb. 14 through Feb. 27, Malheur County’s case rate was 159.2 and test positivity rate was 4.5%. The test positivity rate is in the Lower Risk range but the case rate falls in the High Risk category. These numbers include adults in custody reported by Snake River Correctional Institution. The final weekly report, from which those cases are removed for the purpose of determining risk level, has not yet been updated this week by the Governor’s Office.

Oregon counties are currently in Week One, also called the Warning Week, which allows counties to prepare for a potential risk level change. No change to risk levels will take place as a result of this week’s report.

During Week Two, also called the Movement Week, updated data is published and county risk levels are assigned. Risk levels take effect on Fridays and remain in effect for two weeks while the process repeats. The next risk level change will take place on March 12. It will be based on data collected from Feb. 21 through March 6.

Sexually transmitted infections show increase in Malheur County

If COVID-19 cases were factored out of Malheur County’s communicable disease assessment for 2020, sexually transmitted infections would take the lead in number of cases throughout the county. Out of 405 non-COVID communicable diseases reported in 2020, 315 (78%) were STIs.

The 2020 Communicable Diseases in Malheur County report encompasses data from health care providers throughout the county and offers a detailed look at disease counts, 5-year trends, and demographics. It was prepared by epidemiologist Daniel Morris, MS, PhD.

The report concludes that STIs, including chlamydia, gonorrhea and HIV, are on the rise locally. Chlamydia was the most common infection, but gonorrhea was the fastest growing, with four times the number of cases in 2020 (91) than in 2019 (23). There were 5 cases of HIV reported in 2020, compared to none in 2019. Syphilis showed a slight decline, with 5 cases reported in 2020 compared to 6 cases in 2019.

“Those numbers are significant, especially when you consider that COVID-19 more than likely resulted in fewer people being tested for STIs in 2020 than in previous years,” Malheur County Health Department Director Sarah Poe said.

Testing for STIs is one way to help control their spread, according to MCHD Communicable Disease Coordinator Angie Gerrard, RN. “Everyone should be tested for HIV at least once in their lifetime, and if there is more than one partner or new partners, we recommend being tested regularly. And, if someone tests positive for one STI, we recommend getting tested for others, since they are transmitted the same way.”

If tests for chlamydia or gonorrhea are positive, patients should ask their provider to write a prescription for themselves as well as their partner so that the infection is not passed back and forth untreated. “We encourage people to contact the Malheur County Health Department if they need help with that,” Gerrard said.

The report shows that:

  • In Malheur County’s population centers, rates were highest in Ontario and lowest in Vale. 
  • In 2018 and 2019, about two-thirds of the STI cases were among women. In 2020, only 56% of cases were among women, mainly because of a large increase in gonorrhea cases among men. Gonorrhea cases have been on the rise in the region and across the nation. The five HIV cases in 2020 were all in men, ages 18-36.
  • From 2018 to 2020, people ages 18-25 accounted for a little more than half of all STI cases, and people ages 26-35 made up about 30% of cases.
  • The number of people with more than one STI increased from 15 in 2019 to 51 in 2020. If a person has a positive test for a disease more than a month after a previous positive test, a new case is created. This jump in multiple cases could indicate reinfection, which can happen if a person’s partner does not receive treatment.
  • Reports of non-STI communicable disease were mostly down in 2020. These include diseases such as Hepatitis C, tuberculosis, campylobacter, lead poisoning, salmonella, E. coli, West Nile Virus, giardia, Lyme, listeria, and several others. Overall, reports of non-STI diseases dropped from 133 in 2019 to 90 in 2020, “though this may be a reflection of fewer people seeking health care because of COVID,” the report states.

Predictably, COVID-19 overshadowed all other diseases in Malheur County in 2020. There were 3,008 reported cases – roughly 10% of the county population.

OHA director marks 1 year since first case of COVID-19 in Oregon with open letter to residents

Oregon Health Authority Director Patrick Allen released an open letter to Oregonians on Sunday to mark the one-year anniversary of Oregon’s first COVID-19 case. He asks state residents to maintain pandemic precautions and choose to be vaccinated. Read the letter here.

“But there’s another number Oregonians should bear in mind, especially as we confront the coming months of the pandemic: 4,000. That’s approximately the number of lives you’ve saved by wearing a mask, limiting in-person gatherings and maintaining social distance.”

State announces timeline for remaining COVID-19 vaccine phases

Oregon Governor Kate Brown today shared the state’s timeline for vaccinating Oregon’s remaining eligible populations against COVID-19. By July 1, all Oregonians will be eligible to receive the vaccine. Oregon’s seniors age 65 and older will continue to be prioritized through March 29.

To date, more than 194,000 Oregonians age 65+ have received at least one dose of vaccine – roughly 1 out of every 3 seniors, according to Oregon Health Authority Director Patrick Allen.

“We’re staying true to our commitment to seniors,” Allen said, adding that the state expects that it will have been allocated enough vaccine to vaccinate at least 75% of all seniors by March 29, “weeks ahead of the original timeline.”

Provided supplies from the federal government continue as planned, the timeline is as follows:

No later than March 29, the following Oregonians will be eligible:

  • Adults age 45-64 with one or more CDC-defined underlying health condition with increased risk
  • Migrant seasonal farmworkers, seafood and agricultural workers, and food processing workers
  • People living in low-income senior housing, senior congregate and independent living
  • Individuals experiencing homelessness who are sheltered and unsheltered
  • Wildland firefighters
  • Currently displaced wildfire victims

No later than May 1, the following Oregonians will be eligible:

  • Adults age 16-44 with one or more CDC-defined underlying health conditions with increased risk
  • Frontline workers as defined by the CDC/CISA with Oregon-specific modifications, including grocery store employees, members of the media, public transit workers, postal service employees, and many more.
  • Multigenerational household members

Vaccine is expected to be available to the general population in the following sequence:

  • No later than June 1, Oregonians ages 45-64
  • No later than July 1, all Oregonians

“Our team in Malheur County is excited to see the timeline from the governor’s office for making the COVID-19 vaccine accessible to everyone over age 16 in our county by July. We have already seen the effects of increased immunity in our community, decreasing case rates and risk of exposure. We encourage everyone to access the vaccine as soon as they are eligible,” Malheur County Health Department Director Sarah Poe said.

The timeline is representative of the intent of the Vaccine Advisory Committee and consistent with recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, said Rachael Banks, director of OHA’s Public Health Division. The Vaccine Advisory Committee, she said, recognized structural racism and the impacts it has on black, indigenous, and people of color communities and refugee communities.

Gov. Brown noted the significance of today’s press conference, saying that this Sunday marks one year since the first reported case of COVID-19 in Oregon. She said that while case counts and hospitalizations are steadily declining, variants are still a concern and people must continue to make smart choices – wear a mask, physically distance, and limit social gatherings.

Watch Gov. Brown’s press conference here.

Two more COVID-19 vaccine clinics scheduled at Four Rivers Cultural Center

The Malheur County Health Department and Incident Command team will host indoor COVID-19 vaccine clinics at the Four Rivers Cultural Center tomorrow beginning at 1 p.m., and on Thursday, March 4 beginning at 1 p.m. Tomorrow’s clinic is open to people who are in Phase 1a and Phase 1b Groups1-4. The clinic on March 4 will be open to the same group, plus people age 65 and older. Vaccine recipients must live or work in Oregon.

Tomorrow’s outside temperature is expected to be just above freezing at 1 p.m., so please dress accordingly. Although the event takes place indoors, participants will likely be required to stand in line outdoors for a period of time. If you are unable to stand for an hour or more, please consider bringing something to sit on. You may also bring someone to stand in line for you while you wait in your vehicle. Please use the south entrance of the cultural center, near the theater. The back parking lot, located between the cultural center and TVCC’s Weese Building, will provide the closest access. Several wheelchairs will be available for use. 

Tomorrow’s clinic will distribute roughly 500 first doses, and the March 4 event will distribute roughly 300 first doses, of the Moderna vaccine on a first-come, first-served basis. Both events are scheduled until 4 p.m. or until vaccine runs out. There is no out-of-pocket cost for the vaccine. Administration fees will be billed to insurance when insurance is available; please bring your insurance card(s). You are also asked to wear a mask.

The Four Rivers Cultural Center is located at 676 SW 5th Ave, Ontario, OR 97914.

A booster clinic is scheduled this Saturday, Feb. 27, from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. at the Four Rivers Cultural Center for people who received their first dose of Moderna vaccine on Jan. 30. It is closed to all others.

New COVID-19 risk level will loosen safety restrictions on businesses, activities in Malheur County

The Oregon Health Authority’s newly released COVID-19 Risk Levels Summary indicates that starting Friday, Feb. 26, Malheur County’s risk level will go from extreme to moderate based on data reported Feb. 7 through Feb. 20. It is the first time that Malheur County will be at a risk level other than extreme since Dec. 3 when the state’s four-level guidance system went into effect following a two-week statewide freeze.

“We offer our thanks to everyone in Malheur County who has worked together to make this change possible. It’s been a long time coming and we applaud this community. We should celebrate this milestone, but we should also keep things in perspective. We are moving into moderate risk, which is a lot better than extreme risk but still a clear indication that we are not out of the woods yet,” Malheur County Health Department Director Sarah Poe said. “We need to continue to follow the safety guidelines that have gotten us to this point: Wear a mask, limit gatherings, practice physical distancing, stay home if you feel unwell, wash your hands regularly, and get tested if you believe you may have been exposed to COVID-19. The reality is, one outbreak could put us right back into the extreme level.”

The change in risk level is based on two indicators: new case counts and test positivity rate. The new moderate level allows Malheur County’s restaurants and bars to reopen their doors to indoor patronage – although some restrictions still apply – and other businesses, services and activities to host larger gatherings.

“This is great news for our business community,” said Craig Geddes, Malheur County’s Director of Environmental Health. “We appreciate the cooperation we’ve had from our local businesses in following risk level guidance and look forward to continuing in that effort together.”

In short, the moderate risk level will allow:

  • Eating and drinking establishments to open their doors to indoor dining, not to exceed 50% capacity or 100 people, whichever is smaller. Indoor seating: 6 people per table maximum. Outdoor dining allowed with a capacity of 150 people maximum. Outdoor seating: 8 people per table maximum. 11 p.m. closing time.
  • Faith institutions*, funeral homes, mortuaries, and cemeteries to increase maximum occupancy to 50% or 150 people total, whichever is smaller. Outdoor Capacity: 250 people maximum. (*Capacity limits for faith institutions are recommended only.)
  • Indoor and outdoor shopping centers and malls to increase maximum occupancy to 75%. Curbside pick-up is still encouraged.
  • Indoor entertainment establishments, such as aquariums, theaters, arenas, concert halls, indoor gardens, museums, and other entertainment activities to increase maximum occupancy to 50% or 100 people total, whichever is smaller. 11 p.m. closing time.
  • Indoor recreation and fitness, including gyms, K-12 sports, collegiate sports, fitness organizations, recreational sports, and pools to increase maximum occupancy to 50% or 100 people total, whichever is smaller. Indoor full-contact sports are still prohibited.
  • Long-term care communities to offer inside visitation.
  • Offices to open to the public. Remote work is still recommended when possible.
  • Outdoor entertainment establishments, including zoos, gardens, aquariums, outdoor theaters, and stadiums to increase maximum occupancy to 150 people.
  • Outdoor recreation and fitness, including gyms, fitness organizations, K-12 sports, collegiate sports, recreational sports, pools, and parks to increase to a maximum of 150 people. Outdoor full-contact sports are also allowed.
  • Retail stores, including street fairs/markets, grocery stores, convenience stores and pharmacies, to increase maximum capacity to 75%. Curbside pickup is still encouraged.
  • Social and at-home gathering size (indoor) to increase to a maximum of 8 people. Recommended limit of 2 households remains​.
  • Social and at-home gathering size (outdoor) to increase to a maximum of 10 people with no recommended limit on number of households.

For more detailed information on risk levels and associated guidance for counties, visit Living with COVID-19.

Read Oregon Governor Kate Brown’s announcement regarding today’s new risk level determinations: State of Oregon Newsroom : NewsDetail : State of Oregon

Today’s COVID-19 vaccine clinic canceled due to weather-related shipping delays

UPDATED FEB. 18, 8:10 a.m.

The Malheur County Health Department and Incident Command team have canceled today’s first-dose COVID-19 vaccine clinic, which was scheduled to begin at 1 p.m. at the Four Rivers Cultural Center, due to lack of vaccine availability. Severe winter weather has hampered vaccine delivery across the country, mostly because of delayed flights out of Kentucky and Tennessee. We apologize for any inconvenience this causes.

The second-dose clinic that is scheduled for this morning is not affected by shipping delays. MCHD has already received the vaccine needed for second doses for people who received their first dose on Jan. 21.

The next first-dose vaccine clinic is scheduled on Thursday, Feb. 25, at Four Rivers Cultural Center beginning at 1 p.m. The clinic will be open to people in Phases 1a and 1b through Group 4. Please view the link for eligibility requirements. Additionally, vaccine recipients must live or work in Malheur County.

Watch for more details on our Events Calendar.

Risk level report confirms downward trend in cases, test positivity rates in Malheur County

Today’s Risk Level Metrics: Schools and Counties report, posted weekly on the Oregon Health Authority website, shows a continuing decline in both new cases of COVID-19 and test positivity rate in Malheur County. During the two-week period from Jan. 31 to Feb. 13, the county recorded 41 new cases and a test positivity rate of 3.9%. The rate of cases was 128 per 100,000 people.

Today’s report was issued during a “warning week,” an opportunity for Oregon counties to prepare for the possibility that they might move to a different level of the state’s risk level system, based on data collected over a two-week period. Changes in risk level occur during “movement weeks.” Today’s report will not result in a change in Malheur County’s risk level this week; however, continuing declines in new case counts and test positivity rates would enable the county to move out of the Extreme Risk level on Friday, Feb. 26.

“With fewer COVID-19 cases and sufficient recent testing, people in Malheur County should feel safer from the risk of coronavirus exposure. We need to continue testing and following precautions to maintain this progress, especially with new virus variants that could increase transmission if we don’t prevent spread,” Malheur County Health Department Director Sarah Poe said.

To date, four cases of infection by a COVID-19 variant have been identified in Oregon. All four cases involve the UK (B.1.1.7) variant. This and two other variants – Brazilian (P.1) and South African (B.1.351) – seem to spread more easily and quickly than other variants, which may lead to more cases of COVID-19, according to Centers for Disease Control.

For more information on Malheur County COVID-19 data, visit our COVID-19 Cases page.

Malheur County’s declining new COVID-19 case counts bring optimism

For the past week, Oregon’s daily COVID-19 update has shown a marked drop in the number of new COVID-19 cases reported in Malheur County. There have been just three new cases since Sunday and three days this week, including today, with no new cases reported. The dramatic dip in numbers is encouraging, but people are advised to be optimistically cautious: Continue to follow safety guidelines, and get tested if you have symptoms or believe there is a chance you might have been exposed.

“We are thankful to everyone in the county for helping to reduce the spread of COVID-19 by avoiding gatherings, wearing face coverings, and staying home when sick or exposed to a positive case,” Malheur County Health Department Director Sarah Poe said. “These numbers are encouraging, but we need to continue to do our part to protect our families and our community. We also need increased testing to keep our positivity rate down while new case numbers drop.”

Today, Malheur County remained at the Extreme Risk level of the state’s updated county risk assessment, based on new case counts from Jan. 24 to Feb. 6. Lower case counts could help Malheur County drop into a lower risk level, but only if the test positivity rate remains below 10%. It is currently at 7.7%, but the rate of testing has continued to decline over time.

“Frequent and continued testing helps us to not only reduce the spread of the virus, particularly by those who are asymptomatic, but also keep test positivity rates down. We need positivity rates and new case counts to remain low so that we can move out of Extreme Risk, get our county businesses back up and running, and our lives back to normal,” Poe said.

The next update of county risk levels will occur on Feb. 26 and be based on data from Feb. 7 through Feb. 20.

Malheur County’s declining new case numbers might be partly attributable to local vaccination efforts, Poe said. To date, more than 5,000 doses of vaccine have been administered in the county, although some of them are not counted toward the state’s total because they were given to people who work in the county but live in Idaho. That number includes first and second doses. Statewide, more than 649,000 doses of vaccine – Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech – have been distributed.

As of today, COVID-19 has infected a reported 3,299 Malheur County residents and claimed the lives of 56.

MCHD offers free drive-up COVID-19 testing by appointment four days a week at the MCHD office:

  • Tuesdays, 9 a.m.-12 p.m.
  • Wednesdays-Fridays, 9 a.m.-12 p.m., 1-3 p.m.

For an appointment or more information, call 541-889-7279.

Testing is also available at Rite Aid and through several health care providers, including Valley Family Health Care and Snake River Pediatrics.

For more information on Malheur County COVID-19 data, visit https://malheurhealth,org/covid-19-cases