Malheur County moving to High Risk following 35 new cases, 3 deaths

Thirty-five new COVID-19 cases over the two-week period from April 18 through May 1 will push Malheur County into the High Risk level of the state’s 4-tier risk assessment system this Friday. There were three lives lost to COVID-19 during that period, bringing the county’s total deaths to 61. The county’s rising numbers prompted a warning from Director of Environmental Health Craig Geddes.

“We are saddened by the loss of three more Malheur County residents to this virus, which continues to threaten not only lives but livelihoods,” Geddes said. “The current trend is extremely concerning. If our cases continue to climb and our vaccination rates continue to be low, we will continue to experience this kind of loss. We need everyone to take this seriously – continue to follow precautions and get vaccinated.”

Malheur County is one of 15 counties moving into High Risk on Friday. Thirteen of those are moving down a level, from Extreme Risk. A Governor’s Office announcement today stated that with the statewide seven-day average increase for hospitalized COVID-19-positive patients dropping below 15%, Oregon no longer meets the statewide metrics for the Extreme Risk level. In total, 24 counties will be at High Risk, four at Moderate Risk, and eight at Lower Risk. An Oregon Health Authority report showing two-week case counts and test positivity rates is available here. A complete list of counties and their risk levels is available here.

High Risk guidance allows for indoor dining at eating and drinking establishments, but occupancy can’t exceed 25% or 50 people, whichever is smaller. Outdoor dining is limited to 120 people maximum. Seating per table is limited to six people from no more than two households. Closing time is 11 p.m. at the latest. Other restrictions beginning Friday:

  • For faith institutions, the recommended maximum indoor capacity is 25% of occupancy or 150 people, whichever is smaller; outdoor is 200 people maximum.
  • Indoor and outdoor shopping centers and malls are limited to 50% of maximum occupancy; curbside pick-up is encouraged.
  • Indoor entertainment establishments are limited to 25% occupancy or 50 people, whichever is smaller. Closing time is 11 p.m. at the latest. Outdoor entertainment establishments are limited to a maximum of 15% capacity. Closing time is 11 p.m. at the latest
  • Indoor recreation & fitness establishments are limited to 25% occupancy or 50 people, whichever is smaller; outdoor is 15% capacity.
  • Retail stores are limited to 50% maximum capacity; curbside pick-up is encouraged.
  • Social and at-home gatherings indoors are limited to a maximum of 6 people with a recommended limit of 2 households; outdoor is a maximum of 8 people.

Malheur County’s COVID-19 vaccination rate is second-lowest in the state, behind Umatilla County. As of May 3, 24.8% of Malheur County residents have received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine, and 20.9% have completed the series, meaning they have received a single dose of Johnson & Johnson vaccine or two doses of either Moderna or Pfizer. Respective statewide averages are 42.9% and 30.0%.

Since Sunday, May 2, after the reporting period that moved the county into High Risk, through today, an additional 14 cases have been reported.

More information on vaccination rates by county can be found here.

The full selection of Oregon Health Authority’s COVID-19 data dashboards is available here.

Weekly COVID-19 vaccine clinics will offer Johnson & Johnson through May

The Malheur County Health Department and Incident Command team will offer Johnson & Johnson’s one-dose COVID-19 vaccine in addition to second doses of Moderna at its weekly clinics beginning this Thursday, May 6.

The clinics are scheduled every Thursday through May. Hours are 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. through May 20, with extended hours from 9 a.m.-7 p.m. on May 27.

For more information, visit our Events Calendar, or give us a call at 541-889-7279.

With cases surging, Governor urges Oregonians to protect themselves and others by getting vaccinated

Governor Kate Brown held a press conference today to provide an update on the status of COVID-19 in Oregon. The conference addressed the recent increase in cases and hospitalizations: 

  • Cases have increased 20% or more for the last five weeks. 
  • Oregon is the state with the highest rate of increase in cases over the last two weeks. 
  • Hospitalizations are increasing at almost double what they were a week ago.  
  • The portion of hospitalized cases of people who are 18 to 34 has increased by almost 50 percent. 

“As we are facing widespread cases, driven by new, more contagious variants, I was presented with data showing two paths Oregon could take: One in which we took no additional action and stood by while more people die from this disease, and another that required a temporary tightening of restrictions for certain counties but could save hundreds of lives and prevent as many as 450 hospitalizations over the next three weeks. As your governor, I chose to save lives,” Gov. Brown said.

“There is some good news. The same scientific modeling also shows that over the course of the next two-to-three weeks, based on current vaccination rates, we can get ahead of these variants. Following that trajectory, we should be able to lift restrictions statewide and return to a sense of normalcy no later than the end of June.”

A Governor’s Office press release from today’s conference is available here.

Governor extends state of emergency amid COVID-19 surge, hospitalizations

… the overwhelming majority of our new COVID-19 cases are from people who have not yet been vaccinated. Younger, unvaccinated Oregonians are now showing up in our hospitals with severe cases of COVID-19.

Gov. Kate Brown

Governor Kate Brown today extended her declaration of a state of emergency for COVID-19 for 60 days, until June 28, 2021, unless earlier rescinded or extended.

The declaration is the legal underpinning for the Governor’s COVID-19 executive orders and the Oregon Health Authority’s health and safety guidance; it also provides additional flexibility for the state and private parties responding to the challenges of the pandemic, from allowing restaurants to offer cocktails-to-go to allowing greater flexibility in who may administer vaccines. Extending the state of emergency also helps ensure Oregon is able to fully utilize available federal COVID-19 relief and assistance, including assistance with vaccine distribution.

The full press release is available here.

Malheur County will return to Moderate Risk on Friday

Twenty-five COVID-19 cases over the two-week period from April 11-24 are enough to send Malheur County back into Moderate Risk this Friday. A Governor’s Office press release on Tuesday urged Oregonians to get vaccinated as case counts rise throughout the state.

Malheur County is one of 18 counties moving to a higher risk level this week following cancelation of the state’s warning week; 15 of them are moving to Extreme Risk. Under the risk level framework, explained here, counties move to or remain in Extreme Risk when they meet the county metrics for test positivity and case rates, and Oregon meets statewide hospitalization metrics: COVID-19-positive patients occupying 300 hospital beds or more, and a 15% increase in the seven-day hospitalization average over the past week. 

 “If we don’t act now, doctors, nurses, hospitals, and other health care providers in Oregon will be stretched to their limits treating severe cases of COVID-19,” Gov. Kate Brown said.

Gov. Brown is partnering with lawmakers to approve a $20 million small business emergency relief package to immediately support impacted businesses in Extreme Risk counties.

In Malheur County, restaurant owners received an email on Tuesday from Environmental Health Director Craig Geddes regarding the upcoming risk level change and resulting restrictions on capacity and services:

  • Indoor seating is allowed at 50% occupancy and maximum capacity of 100 people
  • Groups of no more than 6 people
  • Outdoor dining with up to 150 people
  • 11 p.m. closing time

Other affected sectors include social and at-home gatherings, indoor and outdoor recreation and fitness, indoor and outdoor entertainment, faith institutions, funeral homes, mortuaries, cemeteries, and offices. Detailed Moderate Risk guidance is available here.

Gov. Brown encouraged Oregonians to keep their gatherings limited to outdoor settings. “Indoor transmission is a key driver in the COVID-19 surge that is making renewed health and safety restrictions necessary,” she said.

In an effort to speed up the return to normal business operations, county risk levels will be updated weekly for at least the next three weeks. Counties that improve their COVID-19 metrics will have the opportunity to move to a lower risk level. Those at Extreme Risk will remain there for a maximum of three weeks.

The Malheur County Health Department joins the Governor in encouraging all eligible Oregonians to get vaccinated. “With 14 cases in just the last three days, we are unfortunately seeing the result of more people not following the precautions of wearing masks and avoiding gatherings combined with a slow-down in the number of people protected by the COVID-19 vaccines,” MCHD Director Sarah Poe said. “The variants of SARS-CoV-2 are far more transmissible and are leading to more outbreaks and hospitalizations in both Idaho and Oregon. I can’t emphasize enough the importance of protecting those who are most vulnerable to save lives and getting vaccinated to prevent outbreaks. Talk to those you love about the importance of vaccination and call your pharmacy, healthcare provider, or the health department for help getting the vaccine to the eligible people in your life.”

Governor may cancel warning week to fight fourth surge of COVID-19 cases

Governor Kate Brown today announced that the cancelation of the state’s warning week system may be necessary next week to combat the COVID-19 crisis Oregon currently faces. She said that a fourth surge of cases has arrived and that right now, in a race between vaccines and variants, “the variants are gaining ground and have the upper hand. Today’s cases topped 1,000, with Oregon now ranking second in the nation for having the most rapid growth of infection spread.”

Oregon hospitals are about to surpass 300 patients who are positive for COVID-19, crossing the threshold that would place at least 12 counties into the extreme risk level. These counties would be required to reinstate restrictions associated with the highest risk level, including closure of restaurants and bars to indoor dining and nursing homes to indoor visits. Malheur County is currently not likely to be among them, but the warning week has twice kept the county from moving to a higher level of the state’s four-tier system. Gov. Brown said the data will be analyzed again early next week before determinations are made.

Vaccines are the key to moving Oregon forward and preventing Malheur County from returning to the higher or extreme risk levels. The overwhelming majority of new COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations are among people who are not vaccinated, and the virus is affecting younger people and those with no underlying medical conditions. Common-sense safety measures like mask wearing and maintaining 6 feet of distance will need to stay in place for a while longer, until the majority of Oregonians are vaccinated. Gov. Brown said she believes the state will be able to lift most restrictions and fully reopen the economy no later than the end of June. “We will all need to make smart choices over the next several weeks so that we can move forward and into post-pandemic life.”

About half of all Oregonians age 18 and older have received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine, Oregon Health Authority Director Patrick Allen said today. Malheur County, with about 23% of its population vaccinated, has the second-to-lowest vaccination rate in the state.

A video of today’s press conference is available here. The conference begins at the 28:20 mark.

National Prescription Drug Take Back Day is this Saturday

For prescription drugs, a drive-up drop-off site will be located in the north parking lot of the Four Rivers Cultural Center, 676 SW 5th Ave., Ontario, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

For syringe drop-off, sharps bins are available 24 hours a day:

  • at Mallard Grocery in Ontario, 797 N Oregon St.
  • in Nyssa, in the alcove on the residential side of the underpass
  • at Valley Family Health Care in Vale, 789 Washington St. W.

For more information about Take Back Day, visit https://www.deadiversion.usdoj.gov/drug_disposal/takeback/

Malheur County will remain at Lower Risk despite rising COVID-19 cases

Rising case numbers and test positivity rate are enough this week to push Malheur County up one level to Moderate Risk on the state’s four-tier risk assessment system, but a two-week caution period will allow the county to remain at Lower Risk until May 6, according to an update released today by the Governor’s Office.

Malheur County is one of three counties in the state entering a two-week caution period. “The two-week caution period applies to counties facing backward movement. Counties that reduced their COVID-19 spread enough to move down in risk level in the previous two-week period, but see their numbers go back up in the next two-week period, are given a two-week caution period to re-focus efforts to drive back down creeping case numbers and give local businesses additional certainty on their plans for operating,” today’s update said.

A Risk Levels Summary Table also released today shows that during the two-week period from April 4 to April 17, Malheur County’s case count was 27, up from 24 during the previous two-week period; case rate was 84.3, up from 74.9; and test positivity rate was 4.9%, up from 4.3% (adjusted down from 5.1% since initial reporting).

Malheur County Health Department Director Sarah Poe cautioned that Malheur County’s steady rise in cases, coupled with a concerningly low vaccine rate compared to the rest of the state, could result in increased outbreaks, illness, hospitalizations and deaths. Malheur County reported its first COVID-19-related death in three months this week. The county could also face risk level-related restrictions on businesses and activities.

“We are among a cluster of Eastern Oregon counties that are not doing that well with vaccinating. We’re at about 2,300 per 10,000 people vaccinated. The only county that’s doing worse than us is Umatilla,” she said. “It’s definitely concerning.”

According to the Oregon Health Authority’s vaccination dashboard, Malheur County lags behind the statewide percentages of people vaccinated in all age groups. Also of concern is the disparity at the state level between those who identify as Hispanic/Latinx and other race and ethnic groups, shown here. Hispanic/Latinx as a group is only 19.3% vaccinated with at least one dose, behind Blacks at 19.9%, American Indian/Alaska Natives at 21%, Asians at 30.9%, Whites at 34.8%, and Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islanders at 40.4%. Latinos make up about 34% of Malheur County’s population, and while vaccine data based on race/ethnicity is not available from the state for counties like Malheur, where smaller populations could make such data stigmatizing, it is likely that local vaccine rates follow a similar trend.

“On a very practical, common sense level, we need the COVID-19 vaccines to prevent outbreaks and save lives. As a community, we value family and connection. Getting vaccinated protects the people you love and also helps keep our county open. There is no logical way for us to get out of this pandemic and back to normal life without the majority of our community immunized,” Poe said.

Gov. Brown last week said that as Oregonians face more contagious variants and increased spread of COVID-19, the best protection is getting vaccinated. “Until you, your family, your friends, and your neighbors are fully vaccinated, it’s also critical that we all continue to wear masks, maintain physical distance, and stay home when sick.”

A complete list of counties and their associated risk levels is available here.

Eligible youth encouraged to get vaccinated against COVID-19

Today, eligibility to receive the COVID-19 vaccine opens to all Oregonians age 16 and over. Snake River Pediatrics’ Matt Berria, PhD, PA-C, said it is important that youth get vaccinated.

“Snake River Pediatrics strongly recommends eligible adolescents receive the safe and highly efficacious COVID-19 vaccine. Doing so not only protects them but also their families, friends, classmates, and teammates,” Berria said. “Receiving the vaccine goes a long way in protecting those that can’t protect themselves, such as younger siblings. It is a simple and effective way to show they care about those around them.”

Berria also said that once people are fully immunized, they no longer need to be tested or quarantined for exposure to COVID-19, can closely associate with other vaccinated individuals without wearing a mask or social distancing, and might even help others who are hesitant about the vaccine make an informed decision, “rather than relying on false and potentially harmful information propagated in part by social media.” 

In Malheur County, where the supply of COVID-19 vaccine now exceeds demand, adults should have no trouble getting vaccinated; however, there is a limited supply of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, the only one approved for people ages 16-17.

People in this age group are encouraged to call Walgreens in Ontario and speak with someone in the pharmacy to get scheduled for a vaccine appointment. The number is 541-889-6288.

Snake River Pediatrics is expecting a shipment of Pfizer vaccine in early May. The Oregon Health Authority is working to expand availability of the Pfizer vaccine throughout the state.

For more information, visit the OHA’s Frequently asked questions about the COVID-19 vaccine for 16- and 17-year-olds

Daily COVID-19 cases more than double, efforts to reach vulnerable communities fall short

On Friday, Governor Kate Brown and Oregon Health Authority held a news conference to give updates about COVID-19 in Oregon. They reported that efforts to create equitable access to vaccines have fallen short and that daily cases of COVID-19 have more than doubled in just over a month. Read OHA’s bulletin here.

 “The numbers are stark and clear,” OHA Director Patrick Allen said. “For too many people, race and income are predictors of whether you can access a COVID-19 vaccine – or not. Yesterday, I heard the leaders of organizations who serve the Latino/Latina community voice their legitimate frustration at the inequitable disparity in vaccination rates for the Latino community. I share their frustration. As a state, we can and need to do better.” 

According to State Health Officer and Epidemiologist Dr. Dean Sidelinger: 

  • Over the past two days, OHA has reported 1,576 new cases, the highest two-day total since early February. 
  • The largest increased illnesses in Oregon are in people in their 20s.  
  • The second biggest increase is in people in their 30s. 
  • According to the CDC, hospitals around the U.S. are seeing more people in their 30s and 40s who have been admitted with severe cases as the virus continues to mutate.

Dr. Sidelinger cited three stories of recent outbreaks that illustrate how COVID-19 is spreading throughout the state: 

  • A multi-night karaoke event led to 36 cases, three hospitalizations and one death.  
  • An indoor concert at a small music venue resulted in 15 cases.  
  • All 10 people who attended a backyard gathering fell ill.  


A recording of yesterday’s live-streamed press conference is available on YouTube. The video starts at the 31:45 mark.

A recording of a Spanish language translation is available on OHA’s Facebook page.