ONTARIO — Malheur County hit a milestone this week: More than 10,000 of its residents have been vaccinated against COVID-19, according to a news release from Malheur County Health Department on Thursday.

The average number of vaccines being administered per day has jumped from 19 to 26, according to Malheur County Health Department Director Sarah Poe.

There are 41% of people 18 and older having had at least one vaccine and 37.5% of those are fully vaccinated.

“The closer we get to our statewide goal of vaccinating 80 percent of residents, the fewer cases of COVID-19 will be seen in Malheur County,” Poe said in the release. “In order to achieve that goal, another 9,563 people will need to receive their vaccinations.”

She said Malheur County ranks last in percentage of total population protected out of 36 Oregon counties; however, Oregon Health Authority data on Friday showed that Malheur County is still second-to-last, behind Harney County.

Poe says they anticipate more people who were hesitant may now seek out a vaccination with the FDA fully approving the Pfizer vaccine.

COVID claims 67th county resident

On Friday, the health department sent another release stating that a man in his 50s had died in the hospital with COVID-19. His marks the county’s 67th death since the onset of the pandemic in about March of 2020. In that news release, the health department urged people to reach out for counseling and crisis support services, suggesting Lifeways, and also encouraged consideration for others.

“We encourage everyone to be respectful, as a family in our community is grieving,” reads the release.

Record new cases

With the recent spike in COVID numbers, thought to be driven by the delta variant, county officials started a combination testing and vaccination event, which is held from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. every Tuesday through Oct. 26 at the Malheur County fairgrounds.

Angie Sillonis, public information officer for the health department, said at the first of these on Aug. 31, there were 278 tests administered. Of those, 30 Malheur County residents tested positive. However, the total positive cases for the county on Aug. 31 was 86, with 56 more residents testing positive at other providers in the county. 

This is “our highest one-day total since the pandemic began,” she said.

Of those 85 positive tests, 30 were for residents of Malheur County residents, according to Sillonis.

Additionally, she said 39 vaccinations were administered.

COVID cases are currently surging in the county, with three weeks topping triple-digits for numbers of new cases. For the current week, which began on Aug. 29, the county has seen 156 cases in the first four days. The week before that was 154 and the week of Aug. 15 was 113.

Majority are delta variant

Sillonis explained that samples from positive tests across the state are sent to the Oregon State Public Health Lab in order to identify which variant of COVID-19 was at play.

Those results are reported by region, she said, adding that data from the Oregon Health Authority shows that the majority of known cases in eastern Oregon, and across Oregon as a whole, are delta variant.

Have symptoms?

Sillonis urges anyone who is symptomatic to isolate away from others and get tested right away, adding that a physician should be contacted for extreme symptoms. Symptoms vary, but can include a fever, dry cough, sore throat, tiredness, aches and pains, diarrhea, headache, loss of taste and smell, skin rash, difficulty breathing, chest pain or pressure or loss of speech or movement, she said.

Those who have have called in sick to work or school and who need a letter showing a negative test result in order to return, can get one from the health department

Other immunizations

Sillonis suggested that with COVID being in the foreground for so many months, some children may have missed getting their regular childhood immunizations. As such, she urges parents to find out whether their children are up to date, and to contact their child’s pediatrician or health department to be sure.

‘Stories are heartbreaking’

Poe noted in the Sept. 2 news release that low-vaccination rates in our community “is costing lives and draining our health-care system.”

“We currently have Malheur County residents hospitalized for COVID-19 and their stories are heart-breaking,” she said. “Hospitals are filling with people very sick with COVID-19, not from the symptoms of vaccination.”

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