After the minimum three weeks required to bring the infection rates of COVID-19 virus down to acceptable levels to allow moving into Phase 2 (with its less restrictive requirements) Malheur County did not make the cut.

The county remains in Phase 1, with four other counties, Jackson, Jefferson, Morrow and Umatilla on the watch list.

Counties are added to the watch list when the virus is spreading quickly and the spread cannot be traced to specific sources, according to Gov. Kate Brown’s latest virus update. The specific marker is at least a sporadic case rate of 50 per 100,000 people in the last two weeks; there have been more than five sporadic cases in the two weeks, that is they cannot traced to a specific source.

Counties have to drop below their sporadic case levels to be taken off the watch list.

In addition, counties have a new prerequisite to meet to be able to go from Phase 1 to Phase 2: Those with more than 100 cases must have their count reduced to 100 cases or less per 100,000 people per week.

According to the Malheur County Health Department data from the Oregon Health Authority (through Aug. 22) the county’s case rate per 100,000 population is 792.98 and the sporadic case rate per 100,000 is 502.64. Both figures are the highest in the state.

The county has been on the watch list since July 3 and moved from Phase 2 back to Phase 1 Aug. 17.

Case rate by local Zip Code

From the Malheur County Health Department, Aug. 26 report (rate is per 100,000 people)

• 97913 (Nyssa): 180 cases, rate 3256.7

• 97914 (Ontario): 894 cases, rate 4655.0

• 97918 (Vale): 76 cases, rate 1675.1

• Total cases statewide for ZIP codes with less than 1,000 people: 500

Baker County removed from list

While no counties were added to watch list last week, Baker County was taken off, the governor said.

In a news conference on Friday, Brown and state health officials pleaded with people to be careful over the holiday weekend, noting there had been a 30% drop in weekly cases.

“We need to keep going if we want to open schools,” the governor said.

She asked that residents stay local, keep any social gatherings small and outside when possible and shop locally. It was at previous holidays that there was large increase in the number of infections, she noted.

Dr. Pat Allen, director of the Oregon Health Authority, said it is not just about flattening the infection curve, but keeping if flat, commenting that there has been a drop of cases for four consecutive weeks.

Larry Meyer is a news reporter at The Argus Observer. He can be reached at (541) 823-4813 or by emailing larrym@argusobserver.com. To comment on this story, go to www.argusobserver.com.

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