Walk-Thru Wednesday marks first year in Malheur County

Approaching its first year in the community this month, the Malheur County Health Department’s Walk-Thru Wednesday program is going strong. An essential service that was launched just after the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in April 2020, Walk-Thru Wednesday is a PRIME Peer program aimed at providing peer-based harm reduction support for people who use drugs.

“The purpose of Walk-Thru Wednesday is to meet people where they’re at,” MCHD Certified Recovery Mentor Hannah Roy said. Every Wednesday from 12-3 p.m., that place is Mallard Grocery in Ontario where Roy and other peers offer safer-use supplies and syringes, hygiene and wound care kits, safe sex supplies, educational materials, information about hepatitis and HIV testing and links to treatment when needed, and referral to other support programs, including Oregon Health Plan application assistance, WIC, family planning, home visiting, and more.

Walk-Thru Wednesday also offers Naloxone, a life-saving medication used to reverse opioid overdose. “We want Naloxone in the hands of people who use or who know someone who does. It’s free and we’ll teach people how to use it,” Roy said.

Roy is one of three MCHD employees who are trained and certified through the state’s PRIME Peer program to help prevent overdose and injection-related infections and to provide resources and support. The health department also employs two peer support specialists whose primary role is to provide harm-reduction counseling and practical support. In addition to training, peers have lived experience. “We’ve gone through recovery in this area and we know how hard it is. We recognize the barriers,” Roy said.

PRIME is an acronym that stands for Peer Recovery Initiated in Medical Establishments. The program is geared toward people who are currently using drugs and are present in medical settings. The Peer part of the program name represents the peer support that takes place through SMART Recovery meetings and in 1-to-1 settings. SMART is an acronym for Self-Management and Recovery Training.

SMART Recovery meetings are open to the public and free to attend. There is no need to register; anyone can simply drop in. To find a local meeting, search online for “SMART Recovery meetings near me,” or visit SMART Recovery® Local Meetings (smartrecoverytest.org) There are two meetings available in Ontario each week:

  • Thursdays, 3-4 p.m. in person at the MCHD office, located at 1108 S.W. 4th St.
  • Saturdays, 12-1 p.m. via Zoom.

People can also receive support by calling the Health Department at 541-889-7279 or directly to the Peer Dispatch Line at 541-709-8539 during regular business hours. If there is no answer, leave a message. You will receive a response within 24 hours. For after-hours public health reporting, please call Malheur County Dispatch at 541-473-5125. For emergencies, call 911.

Eight-day vaccine event begins April 16 in Ontario

Malheur County, in collaboration with Oregon Health Authority and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, is hosting a COVID-19 vaccine clinic April 16-23 at the Malheur County Fairgrounds, located at 795 N.W. 9th St. in Ontario. The event will distribute up to 2,000 doses of vaccine over eight days. The event was scheduled to provide people in Malheur County with convenient opportunities for vaccination.

The vaccine is free and health insurance is not required, but those who have insurance are asked to bring their insurance card with them. Everyone who is age 18+ can be vaccinated at this event, regardless of immigration status. No one will be asked to provide proof of identification or documentation.

Participants will receive the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine or the first dose of Moderna and be scheduled for a second dose.

The event will be held on the following dates. No appointment is necessary, but vaccinations will depend on supply for that day.

  • Friday, April 16, 4-8 p.m.
  • Saturday, April 17, 12-8 p.m.
  • Sunday, April 18, 12-8 p.m.
  • Monday, April 19, 4-8 p.m.
  • Tuesday, April 20, 4-8 p.m.
  • Wednesday, April 21, 4-8 p.m.
  • Thursday, April 22, 4-8 p.m.
  • Friday, April 23, 4-8 p.m.

Currently, Pfizer is the only vaccine available to people age 16-17 and will not be available at this vaccine event. For information on getting a Pfizer vaccine, or to learn more about this vaccination event, call the Malheur County Health Department at 541-889-7279.

Malheur County will move to Lower Risk this Friday

Beginning this Friday, Malheur County’s risk level will go from Moderate to Lower based on COVID-19 case data reported over the two-week period from March 21 to April 3. A Risk Level Metrics report from the Oregon Health Authority shows that there were 15 cases and a case rate (number of cases per 100,000 people) of 46.8. The test positivity rate was 2.9%.

Risk levels are based on two indicators – new case counts and test positivity rate. The new Lower level allows for some loosening of local restrictions:

  • Eating and drinking establishments still not to exceed 50% capacity, but there is no maximum on number of people. Outdoor dining is allowed with a capacity of 300 people maximum. Indoor and outdoor seating: 8 people per table maximum. Closing time is 12:00 a.m.
  • Faith institutions, funeral homes, mortuaries, and cemeteries to increase maximum occupancy to 75% with no maximum on number of people. Outdoor capacity: 300 people maximum (Capacity limits for faith institutions are recommended only.)
  • Indoor entertainment establishments, such as aquariums, theaters, arenas, concert halls, indoor gardens, museums, and other entertainment activities to remain at 50% maximum occupancy but there is no maximum on number of people. Closing time is 12:00 a.m.
  • Indoor recreation and fitness, including gyms, K-12 sports, collegiate sports, fitness organizations, recreational sports, and pools to remain at 50% occupancy but there is no maximum on number of people. Indoor full-contact sports are still prohibited.
  • Offices to offer limited office work in person.
  • Outdoor entertainment establishments, including zoos, gardens, aquariums, outdoor theaters, and stadiums to increase to maximum 50% occupancy. Closing time is 12:00 a.m.
  • Outdoor recreation and fitness, including gyms, fitness organizations, K-12 sports, collegiate sports, recreational sports, pools, and parks to increase to maximum50% occupancy. Outdoor full-contact sports are still allowed.
  • Social and at-home gathering size (indoor) to increase to a maximum of 10 people. Recommended limit of 4 households.
  • Social and at-home gathering size (outdoor) to increase to a maximum of 12 people with no recommended limit on number of households.

“We recognize all the sacrifices it has taken to get us this far, and we appreciate everyone’s willingness to work together. Please continue to follow guidance so we can keep cases low and Malheur County businesses open,” said Craig Geddes, Malheur County’s Director of Environmental Health.

In addition to risk level changes, Governor Kate Brown announced today that Oregon is adding a statewide hospitalization metric for moving to Extreme Risk. “COVID-19 hospitalizations are a key indicator of severe illness in Oregon communities. As vaccine distribution increases, case counts and percent positivity will not be adequate indicators on their own for measuring the threat COVID-19 poses to public health,” according to today’s press release.

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

A full list of this week’s county risk categories is available here.

Governor expands COVID-19 vaccine eligibility to all Oregonians over 16, effective April 19

Governor Kate Brown announced today that all Oregonians over the age of 16 will be eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine beginning April 19.

“We are locked in a race between vaccine distribution and the rapid spread of COVID-19 variants. Today, Oregon will pass the threshold of 2 million vaccine doses administered. And yet, in communities across Oregon, COVID-19 is spreading at concerning rates. We must move as quickly as possible to get more shots in arms. Beginning April 19, all Oregonians over the age of 16 will be eligible to receive a vaccine,” she said.

Read the full press release here.

Governor announces expanded eligibility for COVID-19 vaccine

Governor Kate Brown announced yesterday that COVID-19 vaccine eligibility in Oregon has been expanded to include age-eligible household family members of frontline workers and that the state is expanding its list of qualifying underlying health conditions to align with the CDC’s revised list.

“As we move into the days and weeks ahead, we will continue to deploy a vaccine strategy that is centered on prioritizing our most vulnerable, and ensuring access to the vaccine for everyone. To do this, we need to move in a manner that is both fast and fair,” she said.

The full press release is available here.

Malheur County gets the OK to open eligibility to Group 7 effective immediately

The Governor’s Office today approved Malheur County’s request to open COVID-19 vaccine eligibility to Group 7 of the state’s vaccine timeline. Effective immediately, frontline workers, people living in multi-generational households, and anyone age 16 and older with an underlying health condition can be vaccinated, in addition to the previously eligible groups.

The county’s request was submitted to the Governor’s Office in the form of a letter on March 19 that also addressed county size as it relates to COVID-19 risk assessment and differences between county and school metrics. The other two requests were not addressed in today’s approval.

“This is welcomed news from the state,” Malheur County Health Department Director Sarah Poe said. “This week, for the first time in over a month, Malheur County’s test positivity and case rates showed an increase in the two-week report released by the Governor’s Office. That’s not something we want to see become a trend, and the only way we’re going to keep both of those rates down – and Malheur County open – is through widespread immunity. Vaccines work, they’re safe, and we’re ready to administer it at our weekly clinic tomorrow to everyone who is eligible.”

The MCHD/Incident Command team will host a vaccine clinic tomorrow from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. at the Four Rivers Cultural Center. The clinic is open to the following:

As more Americans become vaccinated against COVID-19, the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention has updated its guidance to reflect new information as it is available. As of March 23, the CDC has stated that it is generally OK for fully vaccinated* people to:

  • Gather indoors with fully vaccinated people without wearing a mask.
  • Gather indoors with unvaccinated people from one other household without masks (unless any of those people or anyone they live with has an increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19).
  • Not quarantine after exposure

*Fully vaccinated means at least two weeks since receiving the second dose of a two-dose vaccine or two weeks after receiving a one-dose vaccine.

Health Department offers all-day vaccine clinics in April

Angie Gerrard, RN/BSN

In response to expanding eligibility in Oregon, the Malheur County Health Department has lengthened the hours of its weekly COVID-19 vaccine clinics starting this Thursday. Throughout the month of April, clinics will take place every Thursday from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. First and second doses of Moderna vaccine will be available throughout.

“With eligibility opening up to most adults in Malheur County, we felt that an all-day clinic was the best approach. People can stop by at their convenience, whether it’s before or after work, at lunch or during a break in activities,” said MCHD Communicable Disease Coordinator Angie Gerrard, RN/BSN. “I know we’re all eager to put this pandemic behind us, and vaccination of a large percentage of the community is what will allow us to do that. We know these vaccines are safe and life-saving, and we want make the process of getting the vaccine as easy for people as possible.”

Once inside, the vaccine process takes anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour to complete. The last few clinics have had little to no wait time to enter. To speed up the process, people can print and fill out the two required forms – Vaccine Screening & Consent English/Español and Pre-Vaccination Checklist English/Español – and bring them to the clinic. No other paperwork or documentation is required.

COVID-19 vaccine eligibility opened last week to the following groups:

  • All adults 45-64 with underlying health conditions
  • Migrant and seasonal farm workers
  • Seafood and agricultural workers
  • Food processing workers
  • People living in low-income senior housing, senior congregate and independent living
  • Individuals experiencing homelessness
  • People currently displaced by wildfires
  • Wildland firefighters
  • Pregnant people 16 and older

On Monday, these groups will be added:

  • Frontline workers as defined by CDC
  • Individuals living in a multigenerational household
  • Adults 16–44 with one or more underlying health conditions with increased risk

For more information about each of these populations and a full list of eligible groups, click here for English, or here for Español.

COVID-19 vaccine eligibility opens to Group 7 on April 5

The Oregon Health Authority announced today that it is advancing the COVID-19 vaccine timeline by two weeks for people in Phase 1B, Group 7. Beginning April 5, eligibility opens up to:

  • Frontline workers as defined by CDC
  • Individuals living in a multigenerational household
  • Adults 16–44 with one or more underlying health conditions with increased risk

For information about each of these populations, please see pages 2 and 3 of the state’s Vaccine Sequencing Infographic.

Everyone who is 16 years or older will continue to be eligible to get vaccinated on a statewide basis on May 1, as OHA announced last week, with one new change: Counties may open to all residents on April 26, based on an application. attesting that they are ready to move forward. 

“We’re glad that the state has responded to our ongoing request to open eligibility and provide access to more people in Malheur County,” Malheur County Health Department Director Sarah Poe said.

Here are more highlights from today’s announcement:

  • Approximately eight out of 10 people who are eligible for the vaccine in Oregon have received at least one vaccination and 25% of all people in Oregon have gotten at least one shot. The national average is 26%.  
  • Cases and hospitalizations continue to drop. Oregon’s rolling seven-day case average of new cases as of yesterday was 315. That’s a decline of 73% since Jan. 1 and 52% since the beginning of February. Among U.S. states, Oregon is fourth lowest in cumulative daily cases per 100,000 people. 
  • Oregon’s testing capacity exceeds the demand for testing. Since COVID-19 cases are decreasing, the need for testing has also decreased. And test positivity has decreased to a positivity rate of 2.2% as of March 14.   

To date, the MCHD/Incident Comment team has administered 5,573 doses of COVID-19 vaccine and will continue to host vaccine clinics at Four Rivers Cultural Center every Thursday through the month of April.

Malheur County’s vaccine options expand as Oregon reaches 1 million doses

The Oregon Health Authority announced today that 1 million Oregonians have been vaccinated with one or more doses of COVID-19 vaccine.

“Today marks an important milestone in our state. This would not have been possible without the dedication of our local public health employees, health care workers and other vaccinators around Oregon,” said OHA Director Patrick Allen. “I would also like to thank everyone who has made the effort to get a vaccine. I know in many cases it has not been easy, but you are helping to stop this disease from spreading any further.”

In Malheur County, more than 9,000 vaccine doses have been administered. Walmart in Ontario has joined the growing list of local vaccine providers, and Saint Alphonsus Medical Center-Ontario is offering vaccine appointments on Mondays and Fridays. On Monday, March 29, the hospital will offer the Pfizer vaccine. Other first-dose clinics currently scheduled by the hospital will offer Moderna vaccine.

Tomorrow and every Thursday through April, the Malheur County Health Department and Incident Command team will host a first come, first served vaccine clinic from 1-3 p.m. at Four Rivers Cultural Center, located at 676 SW 5th Ave. in Ontario. Vaccines are free, and no insurance or documentation is required.

Vaccine eligibility opened this week to people in Group 6 of Phase 1B. This includes:

  • All adults 45-64 with underlying health conditions
  • Migrant and seasonal farm workers
  • Seafood and agricultural workers
  • Food processing workers
  • People living in low-income senior housing, senior congregate and independent living
  • Individuals experiencing homelessness
  • People currently displaced by wildfires
  • Wildland firefighters
  • Pregnant people 16 and older

For a full list of eligible groups, click here for English, or here for Spanish.

The following is a list of Malheur County providers offering the COVID-19 vaccine:

  • Malheur County Health Department: 541-889-7279
  • Saint Alphonsus Medical Center-Ontario: Vaccine Online Scheduling at Saint Alphonsus Health System  (if you experience online scheduling issues, please call 208-367-3627).
  • Valley Family Health Care:
    • Vale, 541-473-2101
    • Ontario, 541-889-2340
    • Nyssa, 541-372-5738
    • TVWC, 541-881-2800
    • TVPC, 541-889-2668
  • Stark Medical, Ontario, 541-889-2244
  • Bi-Mart, Ontario, 541-889-2141
  • Walmart, Ontario, 541-889-6040
  • Malheur Drug, Vale, 541-473-3333
  • Malheur Memorial Health, Nyssa, 541-372-2211
  • Medicap Pharmacy, Nyssa, 541-372-2222

Malheur County’s test positivity and case rates continue to decline

For the third consecutive reporting period over the past four weeks, COVID-19 test positivity and case rates in Malheur County have dropped, allowing the county to remain at Moderate Risk when risk level assignments are made this Friday.

During the two-week period from March 7-20, there were 19 reported cases of COVID-19, equal to a case rate (number of cases per 100,000 people) of 59.3. Moderate Risk includes case rates from 50 to <100. The county’s test positivity rate during the same period was 1.1%, the lowest it has been since the statewide risk level system went into effect last December. A weekly Risk Level Metrics report is released by the Oregon Health Authority every Monday.

Malheur County Health Department Director Sarah Poe said the reduction in cases is largely due to the increasing number of people who are vaccinated. A vaccine report shared by the OHA this week shows that as of March 17, a total of 9,014 vaccines have been administered by Malheur County healthcare providers and pharmacies since local vaccine deliveries began on Dec. 14. While allocation to county vaccine providers remains inconsistent from week to week, more vaccine is consistently available to a growing number of providers, giving people in Malheur County a variety of options for vaccination.

All three of the vaccines currently approved for emergency use by the FDA – Moderna, Pfizer, and Johnson & Johnson – are available locally, as are drive-up and office-visit appointments. MCHD continues to offer first come, first served vaccine clinics every Thursday beginning at 1 p.m. at the Four Rivers Cultural Center.

“With the opening of vaccine eligibility this week for people in Phase 1B, Group 6, we expect to see Malheur County’s case count continue to decline if more people are protected by the vaccine quickly. We are all anxious to get out and enjoy the nicer weather and the outdoor activities that come with it, and we can do that more safely if the majority of our population gets vaccinated as they become eligible,” Poe said.

Each of the three available vaccines has been proven safe and effective against severe illness due to COVID-19. For more information, visit the CDC’s COVID-19 Vaccine website.