MCHD Will Work with School Districts to Return Students to the Classroom

The Malheur County Health Department (MCHD) commends the Governor’s announcement yesterday to put more Oregon schools on track to return to in-person instruction, beginning as early as January 2021. Read the press release here. Local public health will continue working closely with school districts to follow their Ready Schools, Safe Learners Blueprints and allow more students back into the classroom in person, full time.

“As public health workers, we are very aware of the hardships that students, teachers, and parents have endured while schools are closed to regular in-person instruction and we support the efforts to return students to the classroom, where we know they thrive best,” said Sarah Poe, MCHD Director.

As a community with a nearly 30% childhood poverty rate, our schools are critical supports to the many needs families have not just for learning, but addressing many of their social determinants of health. Rural, high-poverty counties are disproportionately affected by the hardships of both COVID-19 and remote learning. For many months of this pandemic, the counties with the highest incident rate of COVID-19 cases were also counties with a high number of people of color, essential jobs in high-risk industries that cannot be done remotely, a lack of childcare providers, and less community social supports to narrow the gap in capacity to effectively and safely provide distance learning. All of these risk factors negatively affect social determinants of health and have resulted in not only a disproportionate impact of severe COVID-19, but also more students at home without safe and equitable support to sustain distance learning.

COVID-19 vaccines will be available to essential workers, including school teachers and staff, soon after the priority group of healthcare workers has had access to the vaccine. We hope to have more information on county vaccine distribution plans soon.

Thank you to the many advocates who worked on state and local levels to meet the needs of students, teachers, school staff, and families during this crisis. Thank you to Governor Brown for her decision to support a more local response.

Malheur County COVID-19 update: 41 deaths and 2,380 cases

The Malheur County Health Department (MCHD) is saddened to announce three new deaths, bringing the total to 41 Malheur County residents who have lost their lives with COVID-19. Our hearts go out to the family and friends who have lost a loved one.

Two deaths were in females in their 90s and one death was in a male in his 70s. Case investigators are diligently working on every case as they have dedicated their efforts to investigating 2,380 cases over the last eight months.

MCHD urges everyone to take precautions seriously to protect the spread of COVID-19 to the most vulnerable who are more likely to die. COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, and deaths across the United States are rising, including Idaho and Oregon communities near us. Idaho announced 96,503 cases today and Oregon announced 68,503 cases today. The CDC reports the Idaho rate of cases at a rate of 78.22 cases per 100,000 people and the Oregon rate at 29.87 cases per 100,000 people. Everyone in Malheur County needs to be especially cautious due to the increasing risks around us.

Especially during the holidays, if you choose to have small gatherings of up to six people between two households, please take steps to slow the spread of COVID-19. Wear a mask, stay at least 6 feet apart, get tested, and wash your hands often. The more steps you take, the more you and the ones you love are protected against COVID-19.

Do you need health insurance?

Oregon Health Authority : Contact Us : Oregon Health Plan : State of Oregon

Many Oregonians who are uninsured may qualify for the Oregon Health Plan (OHP) or for help paying for coverage through the Marketplace. Oregon’s Marketplace open enrollment runs from Nov. 1 through Dec. 15 and is the only time of year many people can buy private health insurance.

In 2020, more than seven in 10 Oregonians who chose plans through got financial help for monthly premiums and out-of-pocket costs. Due to job losses during the pandemic, we estimate thousands of Oregonians may be newly eligible for help paying for health insurance. Want help? Experts are available to offer free assistance remotely and in person by appointment following COVID-19 safety protocols. Find local help on

Remember, you must apply and enroll by Dec. 15 to get coverage for 2021 through the Marketplace. You can apply for the Oregon Health Plan at at any time. To find out what coverage and savings are available to you, visit

More on Two-Week Statewide Freeze

From November 18 to December 2, Oregon will be in a statewide Two-Week Freeze to stop the rapid spread of COVID-19 across Oregon. These risk reduction measures are critical in limiting the spread of COVID-19, reducing risk in communities more vulnerable to serious illness and death, and helping conserve hospital capacity so that all Oregonians can continue to have access to quality care.

Malheur on Pause starting tomorrow 11/10

The counties on pause are Baker, Clackamas, Jackson, Malheur, Marion, Multnomah, Umatilla, Union, Washington

After a significant spike in COVID-19 cases, nine Oregon counties will begin a two-week pause of social activities on Nov. 11. Five counties were announced on Friday and four more counties were added to the list today. Counties with a case rate above 200 per 100,000 people over a two-week period, or more than 60 cases over a two-week period for counties with less than 30,000 people have been placed on the pause. We must all work together to slow the spread of COVID-19.

Revised “Pause” Guidance has been released to include the four additional counties the Governor added to the “Pause” list today.  The guidance is located here.

The two-week pause measures include:

  • Urging all businesses to mandate work from home to the greatest extent possible.
  • Pausing long-term care facility visits that take place indoors to protect staff and residents.
  • Reducing maximum restaurant capacity to 50 people (including customers and staff) for indoor dining, with a maximum party size of six. Continuing to encourage outdoor dining and take out.
  • Reducing the maximum capacity of other indoor activities to 50 people (includes gyms, fitness organizations/studios, bowling alleys, ice rinks, indoor sports, pools and museums).
  • Limiting social gatherings to your household, or no more than six people total if the gathering includes those from outside your household. Reducing the frequency of those social gatherings (significantly in a two-week period) and keeping the same six people in your social gathering circle.
  • For more information on the two-week pause, read Governor Brown’s press release.

Reopening Guidance — Specific Counties on Pause

Today, Governor Brown announced Malheur County is one of the counties “on pause” with the following guidance released by the Oregon Health Authority.

Effective Dates: November 11, 2020 – November 25, 2020

Applicability: This guidance applies to indoor social get-togethers and indoors spaces at the following settings, businesses, or locations to the extent they are permitted in Phase One or Phase Two, in Jackson, Malheur, Marion, Multnomah and Umatilla counties:

  • Aquariums
  • Bowling alleys
  • Fitness-related facilities
  • Indoor entertainment facilities
  • Indoor markets
  • Facilities where K-12 school sports are practiced or played
  • Facilities where recreational sports are practiced or played
  • Licensed swimming pools, licensed spa pools and sports courts
  • Museums
  • Restaurants/Bars/Breweries/Brewpubs/Wineries/Tasting Rooms/Distilleries
  • Skating rinks
  • Venues
Indoor social get-togethers
  • The maximum capacity for an indoor social get-together in Jackson, Malheur, Marion, Multnomah and Umatilla counties is 6 people indoors.
Persons in charge of the settings, businesses or locations listed above in Jackson, Malheur, Marion, Multnomah and Umatilla counties are required to:
  • Limit the capacity to a maximum of 50 people indoor, including staff, or the number of people based on a determination of capacity (square footage/occupancy), whichever is less. Capacity must be determined by using 35 square feet per person of usable space.
    • This capacity limit requirement does not apply to or change existing capacity limits for faith-based gatherings in Phase Two counties.
  • Limit parties to 6 people or fewer.
  • Prohibit the combining of different parties or individual guests that are not part of a party at shared seating situations. People in the same party seated at the same table do not have to be six (6) feet apart.
  • Follow the applicable OHA sector guidance for all other requirements.

This guidance supersedes any conflicting, less stringent guidance that is applicable to a particular sector, business or organization for the time that it is in effect.

Authority: Executive Order No. 20-27, paragraphs 9, 21, 24, and 26, ORS 431A.010, ORS 433.441, ORS 433.443.

Find a COVID-19 Testing Site

Everyone who has any symptoms of COVID-19 should get a test. Anyone who has spent time with a person who has COVID-19 should also get a test, even if they don’t show symptoms. Contact any testing site first to make sure testing is still occurring and if you meet their criteria.

If you have flu-like symptoms or have reason to think you might have COVID-19, let your healthcare provider know before you visit. This will help avoid exposing anyone else at the provider’s facility.

To find a testing site, use the COVID-19 Testing in Oregon Map or call 211.

Also, multiple testing sites are available in Idaho. More information about Saint Alphonsus testing here. More information about St. Luke’s testing here.

Many healthcare providers have NEW RAPID COVID-19 TESTS AVAILABLE. These tests will help make sure people who have COVID-19 can get the care and support they need. More testing will also help contact tracers reach out to people who may have been exposed to COVID-19, so they can stay home and keep their family and community safe.

The rapid tests are fast and almost always correct at showing if you have COVID-19 (your doctor may call this a “positive test”). However, it is common for the tests to miss COVID-19 (your doctor may call this a “false negative”) — and many people who get negative test results actually do have COVID-19. If you have symptoms or have been exposed to someone who has tested positive, the best and safest thing to do is stay home for 14 days, or quarantine. If you need support while you are staying home, resources are available through the Quarantine Fund and the COVID-19 Temporary Paid Leave Program.

Testing is only one important way to stop the spread of COVID. It is still important for everyone to:

  • wear masks
  • avoid large groups
  • stay at least 6 feet apart, and spend time outside rather than
  • indoors with people outside your immediate family
    wash your hands often.

These are the best ways for us to keep ourselves and the ones we love safe. To find a testing site, click here or call 211.

ODE Releases Updated School Metrics And Safety Reminders

As part of its planned guidance and metrics review process, the Oregon Department of Education (ODE) is releasing an update to the Ready Schools, Safe Learners guidance, including updated metrics for returning to in-person instruction. The metrics are based on the latest COVID-19 studies and data, align to CDC recommendations and help Oregon meet its priority to return students to in-person instruction.

The following is the latest School Metric Data for Malheur County:

The following is the latest Watch List Data for Malheur County:

What this means for Malheur County is that as we prioritize getting students back into school in person, we have to prioritize our efforts to reduce the spread of COVID-19. We need far more testing to improve the test positivity rate and to identify asymptomatic infections. We need everyone to follow the CDC recommendations that we know reduce the risk. If you have been in contact with someone who is sick or has tested positive, please stay home during quarantine. Answer the call from contact tracers. Avoid large gatherings. Wash your hands. Wear a mask over your mouth and nose anytime you are around people you don’t live with.

More from the Oregon Department of Education:

Since Oregon’s metrics were originally issued in August, more data has become available from school districts across the country. ODE worked with the Oregon Health Authority to establish when students can return to the classroom while still mitigating the risk of COVID-19 spread.

A key lesson from the review of national school data is that Oregon school districts can help protect student and staff health and well-being during in-person instruction when community spread is sufficiently low and when school districts strictly adhere to the health and safety protocols now in place in Oregon.

“Today we are sharing scheduled updates to our metrics for schools. Guided by data, these metrics offer an intentional and measured approach to returning to in-person instruction while recognizing the importance of meeting our kids’ academic needs—and allow for in-person instruction in places of our state where the risk of COVID-19 is lower. They also set a North Star for the rest of the state to work toward,” said ODE Director Colt Gill. “We all know that in-person instruction provides our children and families with more than access to an equitable education. Schools are a center of services to students and families, offering nutritious meals, access to social-emotional and mental health supports, as well as physical health services.” 

Key changes to the metrics include:

  • A clear set of reachable targets for communities to strive for, with a North Star of returning Oregon students to in-person instruction.
  • Acknowledgement that Oregon’s Ready Schools, Safe Learners guidance’s strong public health protocols in structured settings like schools, can greatly reduce the risk of transmission of COVID-19.
  • Additional time for schools to transition between in-person and distance learning models.
  • Increased access to in-person instruction at the elementary level.
  • A two Week “Look Back” at the Metrics Data rather than one week at a time over a three week period.
  • Removes State Positivity Rate in favor of county positivity rates.

ODE and the Oregon Health Authority (OHA) were among the very first states to create metrics for returning to in-person instruction in early August. At that time they were based in large part on successes seen in other countries, as school was not in session in the U.S. Later, exceptions were added to make a return to in-person instruction possible for more students, where there was lower risk of COVID-19 transmission. When the metrics were first released, further review was announced, and now with additional studies and data on-hand the metrics are being revised to permit more in-person instruction while continuing to ensure that local conditions guide the process. As we learn more about the progression of COVID-19 in Oregon, the effectiveness of future vaccines and other mitigation efforts, and gain more information about the transmission of COVID-19 in structured settings like schools, ODE and OHA are committed to reviewing the metrics again in the coming weeks. 

The metrics updates take effect immediately and, based on this week’s data points, potentially allow close to 130,000 students to return to some in-person instruction. The guidance recommends that schools consider both equity and a methodical and cautious approach at the beginning that return a portion of the school population first and then add more students on-site over time. This will allow schools to build new safety routines, stabilize cohorts, and avoid sudden, disruptive transitions back to Comprehensive Distance Learning due to quarantine or isolation.

Safety Reminders

Schools are structured settings where we can reduce risk of COVID-19 transmission through key practices. Oregon’s Ready Schools, Safe Learners guidance requires schools to comply with specific guidelines on:

  • Physical distancing
  • Face coverings
  • Hand hygiene
  • Cohorting
  • Cleaning and disinfecting
  • Airflow and ventilation
  • And, effective screening, and responses to cases with quick access to testing and implementing isolation and quarantining 

School safety and other COVID-19 school related questions can be answered by emailing

If you believe a school is not in compliance with the safety requirements you can file a named or confidential complaint with Oregon OSHA at 1-833-604-0884 or online at:

“These metrics depend on the public doing its part to reduce Oregon’s case rates so that all of our children can return to in-person instruction,” Gill said. “Oregonians can reduce spread and send our kids back to school by wearing a face covering, maintaining distance, washing hands frequently, and avoiding group gatherings.”

Other changes to the Ready Schools, Safe Learners guidance include:

  • Aligning with the most recent face covering requirements from Oregon Health Authority (Pages 32-35). 
  • Adding a link to the Tribal Consultation Toolkit (Page 77).
  • An exclusion guide (30).
  • Aligning to recent CDC changes to “close contact” definition (29).

Health and Education Leaders Weigh In

Video: Oregon Health Authority’s Dr. Tom Jeanne talks about revisions to school metrics.

Video: Salem-Keizer School District Superintendent Christy Perry talks about the importance of In-person instruction.

Video: Press Briefing with Gov. Kate Brown, Oct. 30, 2020

10/28 OHA Weekly Report Update

Malheur County COVID-19 outbreaks reported in latest Weekly Report by Oregon Health Authority.

  • Recently resolved outbreaks in care facilities with three or more confirmed COVID-19 cases or one or more COVID-19 related death.
    • Pioneer Place: 40 cases
    • Riverside Manor: 3 cases
    • Wellsprings Assisted Living: 6 cases
    • Nyssa Gardens: 9 cases
  • Active workplace outbreaks with five or more confirmed COVID-19 cases
    • Snake River Correctional Institution: 526 cases (last week 518 cases)
  • Recently resolved workplace outbreaks with five or more confirmed COVID-19 cases
    • Amalgamated Sugar: 9 cases
  • Child care facilities reporting active COVID-19 outbreaks
    • Oregon Child Development Center – Nyssa: 7 cases (last week 7 cases)
    • Oregon Child Development Center – Ontario: 5 cases (last week 5 cases)
  • Schools with recent COVID-19 Cases
    • Nyssa High School: 1 student, 4 staff/volunteers (last week 1, 4)
    • Nyssa Middle School: 0 students, 4 staff/volunteers (last week 0, 4)
    • Nyssa Elementary School: 1 student, 3 staff/volunteers (last week 1, 3)
    • Four Rivers Community School: 0 students, 4 staff/volunteers (last week 0, 4)
  • Schools with recently resolved COVID-19 Cases
    • Vale Elementary School: 0 students, 1 staff/volunteer

Malheur County COVID-19 Cases by Zipcode

  • 97913 (Nyssa): 320 cases, rate of 5789.8 cases per 100,000 people
    • Last week Nyssa: 305 cases, rate of 5510.4
  • 97914 (Ontario): 1406 cases, rate of 7321.0 cases per 100,000 people
    • Last week Ontario: 1359 cases, rate of 7076.3
  • 97918 (Vale): 151 cases, rate of 3328.2 cases per 100,000 people
    • Last week Vale: 146 cases, rate of 3218.0
  • All other Malheur County Zip Codes: 33 cases
    • Zip code data pulled the previous Sunday.
    • Total cases 10/25/20 = 1910
    • Total cases in Nyssa, Ontario, Vale = 1877

If you have questions or comments on outbreaks, reporting, or cases, please call the Malheur County Health Department and ask to speak with a COVID-19 Case Investigator at 541-889-7279.

County Health Rankings report shows progress and opportunities for Malheur County

Malheur County is ranked in the 2020 County Health Rankings, a set of annual reports published by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute. The reports show how counties compare to other counties in their states in overall health, and how they stack up in performance on specific health factors against national benchmarks. The Rankings are available at

For nearly a decade, the County Health Rankings have shown that where we live makes a difference in how well and how long we live. This year, analyses show that meaningful health gaps persist not only by place but also by race and ethnicity. These health gaps are largely influenced by differences in opportunities that disproportionately affect people of color, such as access to quality education, jobs, and safe, affordable housing.

For 2020, Malheur County is ranked 30th for health outcomes of 35 participating counties across Oregon. Health outcomes include length of life and quality of life. Malheur County is ranked 33rd for health factors of 35 participating counties across Oregon. Health factors include health behaviors, clinical care, social and economic factors, and physical environment.

“We can’t be a healthy, thriving nation if we continue to leave entire communities and populations behind,” said Richard Besser, MD, RWJF president and CEO. “Every community should use their County Health Rankings data, work together, and find solutions so that all babies, kids, and adults – regardless of their race or ethnicity – have the same opportunities to be healthy.”

This year’s Rankings explores important trends happening among the nation’s children and youth:

  • Teen Births: There are strong ties between poverty and births among teens. Teen birth rates have been declining across community types and racial groups for more than a decade, with most recent data showing a US rate of 27 per 1,000 females, ages 15-19. Hispanic teens have seen the most improvement in birth rates, falling from 77.7 to 31.9 births per 1,000 females– ages 15-19, from 2006 to 2016.  
    • In Malheur County, the teen birth rate continues to improve, with an average of 40 births per 1,000 females, aged 15-19, down from 46/1,000 last year. This is still significantly over the Oregon average of 18/1,000.
  • Children in Poverty: Poverty limits opportunities and increases the chance of poor health. Today, 1 in 5 children grow up in poverty. Available data show that, for the majority of U.S. counties, child poverty rates for American Indian/Alaskan Native, Black, or Hispanic children are higher than rates for White children, and these rates are often twice as high.
    • In Malheur County, the rate of children in poverty is 29%, nearly 1 in 3. The Oregon average is 16% of children live in poverty.

Additional areas for improvement include the rate of sexually transmitted infections (ranked 33rd of 35 counties), obesity (35% of adults in Malheur compared to 29% Oregon average), and severe housing problems (including lower than average home ownership).

For areas of strength, Malheur County exceeds the Oregon average of 77% high school graduation rate at 83%. While only 49% of our population receives some college (70% Oregon average), we can celebrate how many students graduate 12th grade. Violent crime, injury deaths, suicides, and firearm fatalities in Malheur County all rank less than the state averages.