Current Covid numbers show most Malheur county schools can’t reopen in the fall

(Kezia Setyawan/The Enterprise)

ONTARIO – Current numbers of Covid cases and testing rates indicate that the majority of Malheur County schools are not going to be able to reopen in the fall.

Gov. Kate Brown last week issued new guidance for schools that require specific Covid metrics to be met before schools can put students back in classrooms that have been empty since mid-March.

The state is requiring that a county hold a rate of no more than 10 cases per 100,000 residents, a positive testing rate of less than 5% for three weeks and that the state’s average positive testing rate less than 5% for three weeks.

As of Saturday, Malheur County had a positive testing rate of 17.7%, according to the county health department. The week of July 19-25, the county had 284.6 cases per 100,000 people, according to Oregon Health Authority. Statewide, the positive testing rate was 5.1% the week of July 19-25.

Sarah Poe, Malheur County Health Department director, said it would be “extremely difficult” for Malheur County to meet the state’s metrics to allow students back in classrooms.

“Those metrics mean we’d have to have less than three or four cases in a week,” said Poe.

She said the metrics mean that the community needs to take Covid “seriously” and “appreciate” its impacts on people.

“We do have the opportunity to flatten the curve,” said Poe. “We know what works.”

On July 3, Malheur County was put on the state’s Watch List, which consists of counties that have high rates of community spread. Cases have continued to soar since.

The state health authority has been giving counties on the Watch List extra attention. Phillip Schmidt, health authority public information officer, said “since the recent increase in cases” that put Malheur County on the Watch List, the state has provided training for county health staff on the contact tracing database, helped with data collection and entry and “stepped in as needed” to help with case investigations and contact tracing on days with especially high case counts.

“OHA has been in frequent close contact with Malheur and other counties on the watch list and stands ready to provide more assistance and support,” said Schmidt. “We recognize that these counties are experiencing high case numbers and need our help in order to control the spread of COVID-19 and keep their residents safe.”

On Thursday, Brown announced updates on which counties are on the Watch List, and Malheur County remains on it, according to a press release from the governor’s office.

News tip? Contact the Malheur Enterprise by email at [email protected] or call 541-473-3377.


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