Malheur County now alone on state’s watch list for Covid

Malheur County continues to far exceed the state’s average rate for positive testing and infections of Covid, according to county and state data as of Saturday, Sept. 19. (Enterprise chart)

And then there was one.

Malheur County, suffering a continued high rate of coronavirus infections, remains the lone county on the state’s watch list.

Gov. Kate Brown on Friday announced she was removing Umatilla and Morrow counties from the watch list.

Meantime, Malheur County last week posted its worst work since the pandemic began locally in March in terms of total new cases. The county recorded 131 new infections for last week, reversing a declining trend that started in late August.

Malheur County officials reported 23 people have died and 14 remained hospitalized with Covid.

The county posted a positive testing rate of 42% last week, but the number of tests has dropped since late August. Health authorities use the positive rate as a measure of how widely a virus is spreading in a particular area. They say a rate of 5% or less indicates a virus generally under control.

The numbers tell of a county struggling to get the infection rate under control to resume more normal business and public life and to return students to schools.

Brown noted the impact of bordering Idaho counties for Malheur County.

“Malheur County faces particular challenges, including the county’s proximity to Idaho and the amount of travel back and forth across the state border,” Brown said in her Friday statement. “Idaho continues to have some of the highest rates of COVID-19 infections in the country, and the communities across the border from Malheur County are among the hardest hit by the virus.”

She acknowledged that Malheur County won’t get its virus infection rate down without changes in government actions in Idaho. There, counties generally set the rules for Covid-related health measures and they generally have only recommended, not mandated, such steps seen by Oregon officials as needed to slow the virus spread.

Sarah Poe, Malheur County Health Department director, said in a Friday evening statement that county measurements indicate continued spread of the virus. She said Snake River Correctional Institution has reported a total of 406 Covid cases, and that 39 new cases emerged in congregate care facilities in the county in the past week.

“We need to be strong and safe to reduce the spread of COVID-19 and reduce the hardship it brings,” Poe said.

Umatilla and Morrow counties have seen state restrictions ease as they have aggressively moved against the virus. Brown said people in those counties appeared to be following basic health guidelines state officials have been urging for months across the state.

“The progress they have made in curbing community transmission shows that we can reduce the spread of this disease if we all do our part by wearing face coverings, watching our physical distance, washing our hands, staying home when sick and avoiding large gatherings,” Brown said.

Poe repeated that public health mantra in her own Friday message. She also urged families to prepare for if an infection shows up at the family home. She said families should:

•Be sure everyone has a face covering to use when they leave the house.

•Assign one person to do grocery shopping and only once a week.

•Disinfect surfaces touched often such as door knobs, steering wheels and phones.

•Plan how to keep a family member who gets sick isolated from everyone else at home.


When pandemic hit, a task force worked to find Malheur County’s way through

Confusion, misinformation on Covid hamper efforts by health officials to stop the pandemic

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