Warning Week: COVID-19 test positivity rate and cases are rising in Malheur County

“We urge you, for the sake of our business community and working families, to prioritize getting everyone in your household vaccinated who meets the conditions and recommendations of the CDC.”

Ontario City Manager Adam Brown

Malheur County’s COVID-19 cases and test positivity rates are on the rise, according to a weekly Risk Levels Summary released by the Governor’s Office this week. During the two-week period from March 28 to April 10, there were 24 new cases reported, for a case rate (number of cases per 100,000 people) of 74.9. The test positivity rate was 5.1%.

Both rates would qualify Malheur County, currently in the Lower Risk category, to move to Moderate Risk if they had occurred during the two weeks leading up to a Movement Week instead of a Warning Week, and if counties weren’t given a two-week caution period meant to keep those that moved down in risk level during the previous movement period from experiencing a yo-yo effect.

This week’s report shows an increase of 10 cases over the previous two-week period, from March 14-27, and a jump of almost 76% in the test positivity rate, which was previously 2.9%.

“These numbers are concerning, given the rise in cases throughout the country and the increase in the presence of variants in and around Oregon and Idaho,” Malheur County Health Department Director Sarah Poe said.

According to the state’s Vaccination Trends dashboard, Malheur County has the second-lowest vaccination rate in the state, with 2,276.9 people out of 10,000 having received at least one dose. Umatilla County has the lowest with 2,166.5, and Lincoln County the highest with 4,526.7.

If Malheur County’s case count continues to increase, a higher risk level and the associated risk-reduction measures, such as lower limits on capacity at businesses and activities, are not far off.

“As partners with Malheur County, the City of Ontario wants to see our businesses operate at their fullest capacity under the circumstances to maintain the economic health of our community. Vaccinations are proven to be one of the ways to keep case rates down. We urge you, for the sake of our business community and working families, to prioritize getting everyone in your household vaccinated who meets the conditions and recommendations of the CDC,” Ontario City Manager Adam Brown said.

A nationwide pause in the distribution of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which began Tuesday following a joint statement by the CDC and FDA regarding their review of six cases of a rare and severe type of blood clot, is unlikely to create a shortage of vaccine in Malheur County where supply currently exceeds demand. Poe said there is enough Moderna vaccine available to proceed with an 8-day vaccine event that begins this Friday at the Malheur County Fairgrounds.

“It’s important to not exaggerate the very rare potential for risk that is being examined with the Johnson & Johnson vaccine,” Poe said. “The pause in distribution of Johnson & Johnson should give us more confidence in the safety of the vaccines that are available. The risk of severe illness from COVID-19 is still very real and preventable with vaccine,” Poe said.

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.