Malheur County Health Department Director: COVID cases begin spiking regionally

ONTARIO — As the Centers for Disease Control has begun urging people who are vaccinated against COVID-19 to start wearing masks indoors again, that movement is picking up speed. The reason is that they can still spread the virus, including the Delta variant, which is starting to spread heavily throughout the nation.

Malheur County Health Department Director Sarah Poe said there is currently a spike in cases, and that more outbreaks are expected over the next month.

“For variants, I only have regional data, showing four different variants of concern in eastern Oregon, including 18 cases of Delta,” she wrote in an email on Thursday. “We also know there are several variants, including Delta, identified by Southwest District Health in the Idaho counties bordering Malheur [County].”

She said “it is safe to say that the variants are here,” adding that is likely part of the reason cases are rising. However, low vaccination rates are also causal, according to Poe.

“The biggest reason we have more cases though is because we are far from the 65% goal, with only 37.9% of adults protected by the COVID-19 vaccine in Malheur County,” she said. “We also lag behind the Idaho average of 52.6% of adults vaccinated. When we look at percent of total population vaccinated, Malheur is the least protected in all of Oregon.”

Poe said it is especially concerning to see test positivity rates increasing, as it indicates more community spread.

“Put simply, there isn’t sufficient testing being done if we’re over 5% test positivity, indicating that there are likely many more cases out there that haven’t been identified, which likely means those people are unintentionally infecting others,” she said. “The test positivity on the last weekly report was 7.9% at the same time more cases were identified from previous weeks. Just in the last three days, we’ve had more cases than we have in the full week before that. I expect another surge in cases, nearly all preventable for anyone over age 12.”

The health department has found a new public information officer, Poe said. That is Angie Sillonis, who will start on Monday.

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