ONTARIO — Two more residents in Malheur County who were reportedly diagnosed with COVID-19 have died, according to the Malheur County Health Department. The 68th and 69th residents were a woman and a man who were in their 70s, according to a news release from the department on Tuesday afternoon. Both are said to have died in the hospital.
Sarah Poe, director, and Angie Sillonis, public information officer, both appeared via Zoom before the Ontario City Council on Tuesday night to give them an update on the local situation.
As of Tuesday, they stated that there were 14 Malheur County residents in hospitals, and that one of those cases was a person in their 20s. Positive cases have averaged 28 per cay in the past week, according to Poe, which is slightly down from the week before. However, test positivity has recently risen, and even as of the end of July was higher than the 5% threshold health officials would like to see it at. Poe stated that about 1 in 5 people currently are testing positive, indicating significant community spread.
“We have incredible hospital systems, but all are near capacity,” she said.
While about 5% of positive cases statewide result in hospital stays, Poe believes local numbers are much higher. Additionally, she said if 5% of the people who tested positive in Malheur County in the past week were hospitalized, it would equate to 10 people.
“And we don’t have the capacity,” she said.
She said the epicurve slide from Oregon Health Authority shows a very clear dip in cases when the vaccine was rolled out. However, she says, people relaxed then, masks came off and suddenly we were surging again.
“There were not enough people protected by the vaccine,” she said.
Poe showed a slide of vaccination percentages for Malheur County, which is currently at 36.5% for the total population. The breakdown by zip code for larger areas in the county included data for Nyssa (42.2%), Vale (39.5%), and Ontario (38.1%). Poe emphasized Ontario’s higher population being less vaccinated.
“I want people in Ontario to take that personally,” she said.
She urged people to have open conversations about the importance of the vaccine with other individuals.
Having recently heard a woman say “I’m not doing COVID,” Poe told the council: “NO one is neutral. Be proactive. If you leave your home, if you care for someone else, if you are part of the community, you’re in it. There is not a way to ‘not do COVID.’”
Those conversations should ultimately include people in the Hispanic community, she said, because that community overall is only about 24.8% vaccinated.
“It really feels unfair,” she said. “Help us address that equity and we’re helping our neighbors.”
Poe urged city councilors to help keep the conversation going in order to prevent outbreaks “so we can go into the holiday season and not lose lives,” noting that vaccination remains the “single-highest priority.”
Poe also provided information about people eligible for a third shot, or booster, mentioning that she herself had received one.
What local data looks like
According to data in OHA weekly reports, for the week of Sept. 19 the county had 196 cases, or 610.5 per 100,000, down from the previous week, Sept. 12, in which 288 cases were reported, for a rate of 897.1 per 100,000. However, there has been an increase in test positivity in the most recent week, which is reported at 19.6% for the week of Sept. 19, up from 16.7% for Sept. 12.
There were no dates of deaths included in the news release, and Sillonis clarified that she believed the deaths were both last week and were included in an OHA report on Tuesday morning.
According to the data, Malheur County cases are relatively split between men and women, with the majority of cases falling in the 20-to-39 age range, followed by those age 40 to 59 and those age 19 and younger. Those age 80 and older comprise the fewest cases, with age 60-79 the second-lowest.
According to the data, of the cumulative cases since February of 2020, 94.2% of those who have tested positive for COVID-19 have not been hospitalized, with 5.7% ending up in the hospital at some point. Data also shows that, of those positive cases who were interviewed, individuals who attended gatherings did not comprise the majority of cases from July of 2020 until present. About 81.8% of individuals who tested positive were interviewed by someone conducting contact tracing. Those not interviewed either couldn’t be reached by the health department or refused to do interviews.
More people who tested positive were experiencing symptoms compared to those who were not; as such, OHA states that there are likely more asymptomatic cases than are shown on its graph. When it came to symptoms, the most commonly reported ones were cough, headache, muscle aches and loss of taste or smell.
As of Sept. 23, epidemic trends and scenario projections for Oregon show that the average number of secondary cases a single case generates has fluctuated dramatically over time, however, on the week ending Sept. 8, health officials put the best estimate at less than one or between .84 and .99. Reasons cited for the decline include people adopting “more protective behaviors” after the surge of the delta variant.
If transmission continues to drop at the current level, officials predict a “continued decrease in diagnosed cases” for the two week period between Sept. 29 and Oct to an average of 1,480 per day. 12. On the other hand, if it increases by 20% (to demonstrate more people indoors, including schools), cases could increase to 2,050 per day.
Majority have shown symptoms
The Malheur County Health Department states that there is no further information on the deaths at this time, but did urge people to be respectful to others in the community, to reach out to counseling or crisis support services if needed and to continue to take precautions to minimize the spread of the virus. The latter includes wearing a mask indoors and even outdoors in places where 6-feet of physical distancing is not possible, washing hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, covering mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing and staying home if you feel ill.
For those who have COVID-19, which can include unvaccinated individuals according to the Centers for Disease Control, symptoms may develop within 14 days. Symptoms vary but are similar to the common cold and flu. In Malheur County, of those
The Health Department continues to administer tests and vaccines at no cost every Tuesday through the end of October at the Malheur County fairgrounds. Those who attend can get one or both services, but are not required to get both. The clinics are open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and attendees should stay in their vehicles and follow posted signs. The fairgrounds are at 795 N.W. Ninth St., Ontario.
For more information about where to get COVID tests or vaccines in Malheur County, visit the Health Department’s Covid-19 Resources tab at its website, www.malheurhealth.org or phone (541) 889-7279.