How time flies! I am celebrating three years at the health department this month and two years since we started our local COVID-19 response. I am overwhelmed by the resilience and dedication of our health department staff and the many volunteers we’ve served with over that time.
Looking back, we really didn’t have a break between the start of our surge in July of 2020 until January of 2021, when we lost the most people with COVID in our county in a month, just as we started rolling out vaccine. With lots of community support, our county ICS team administered over 8,000 doses while cases plummeted between January and May 2021, when our vaccine rate stalled. From that time until now, we have ranked 35/36 counties for vaccine rate.
The Delta variant brought another surge in August through October of 2021 and our county was hit especially hard because we still had so many people not protected by vaccine. Hospitals went into crisis standards of care and we had many more deaths. The new Omicron variant has been less severe, but due to the sheer number of cases, our health care system is strained yet again and we have reached a total of 100 Malheur residents dead with COVID-19. I’ve attached a graphic from today showing the rate of cases over time.
We may have reached the peak of this recent surge and hopefully cases will decline as sharply as they increased. We’ve had over 1,850 cases reported since the beginning of 2022. Unfortunately, we expect to see more hospitalizations and deaths, as those usually lag several weeks after the surge. The most important thing any of us can do is to be vaccinated. Second most important thing is to help someone else get vaccinated. Currently, just 50% of Malheur residents aged 18 and older have received at least one dose, compared to the Oregon average of 82.5% and Idaho average of 67%. The vaccines are extremely safe and effective at what they’ve been designed to do: prevent hospitalizations and death. Think of those in your life that may need your encouragement and sincere concern for their wellbeing and call our office (541-889-7279) or your local pharmacy or healthcare provider to get them connected to a vaccine as conveniently as possible.
Now for great news!
In response to overwhelming requests for increased testing, we have arranged weekly, free, drive through testing events at the Ontario Firehouse Airport on Thursdays, starting February 10th through March 3rd from 9 a.m. until 2 p.m. Please share the attached fliers in English and Spanish and the Facebook event. PCR testing is more sensitive, so symptoms or exposure are not required. Test results in 36-48 hours.
MCHD Wednesday Walk In Vaccine Clinics continue from 9 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. We are closed for lunch from noon until 1 p.m. No appointment necessary. COVID-19, flu, and most adult and childhood vaccines available. $25 local gift card with every dose of COVID-19 vaccine. Our clinic address is 1108 SW 4th Street in Ontario. School exclusions are also fast approaching, so make sure the school aged kids in your life are up to date on their vaccinations! If Wednesdays don’t work for you, call us at 541-889-7279 to set up an appointment.
We have put in an order for the first round of COVID-19 Pfizer vaccine allocation for young children aged 6 months to 4 years old. We expect to receive the shipment the week of February 21st. Our hope is to have the vaccine available to all people aged six months and older at our Wednesday walk in clinic February 23rd. Watch our website for updates closer to that date.
Oregon will lift indoor mask requirements no later than March 31. We do strongly recommend high-risk individuals continue wearing masks in indoor public settings after mask requirements are lifted, including people who are unvaccinated, immunocompromised, at high risk of COVID-19 hospitalizations, including those with underlying health conditions and those 65 and older, and people living with people at high risk. This is the best time to make sure those unvaccinated around you are up to date, including a booster, if eligible. Masks do provide some protection to reduce the risk of infecting others if you are infected and wearing a mask, so the greatest risk is to those who are unvaccinated and around others not wearing masks. Once requirements are lifted, employers and businesses may continue to establish their own mask requirements to protect employees and customers.
Planning ahead for more vaccine access: The OHA is sending a special team to Ontario March 18th through March 31st for 14 days of vaccine events, including two weekends. We will have more information soon. If you’d like to partner to help us advertise, have a booth with outreach/service materials, volunteer, or provide additional incentives for people being vaccinated, please reach out to me and we will keep you in the loop as we coordinate with the OHA.
State COVID-19 hotline (866-917-8881) and website are providing great response to people with questions about isolation and quarantine in multiple languages. If you take a home test and it is positive, please call the hotline to report your test. Don’t have your federal free home tests? Order at https://www.covidtests.gov/ or call 800-232-0233. One order of four tests per address is allowed.
Thank you for continuing to care and supporting our community-wide efforts to protect all who live here. Brighter days ahead!
Sarah Poe, Director
Malheur County Health Department
1108 SW 4th Street
Ontario, Oregon 97914
Office: 541-889-7279 x127