County reaches grim milestone as nearly 6,000 people have been diagnosed with Covid since the pandemic began

Valley Family Health Care’s mobile health clinic stands ready for walk-in patients to receive a Covid vaccine outside of Nyssa High School in August. About 6,000 local residents have been infected by Covid. (The Enterprise/AUSTIN JOHNSON)

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ONTARIO – About one out of six people locally have been diagnosed with Covid since the pandemic began in early 2020, according to data from the Malheur County Health Department.

More than 6,000 county residents are known to have been infected with the virus, but the number may be much higher, according to Sarah Poe, health department director.

“That’s because at times our test positivity rate has been so high, we know there have been undetected cases and because there are people with symptoms who choose not to be tested,” said Poe.

Health department statistics show 94 Malheur County residents have died after contracting Covid since the pandemic started.

The number of total cases is a grim milestone, and more infections are almost a certainty as the new Covid variant, omicron, rolls across the state and the nation.

Health department statistics show that for the week ending Dec. 19, there were 22 Covid cases reported. Yet Dec. 30, the health department reported 24 new cases in one day, a dramatic spike in Covid infections.

“We do anticipate more cases,” said Poe.

Meanwhile, the state last week ordered 12 million at-home free Covid tests, the largest order since the pandemic began. The state’s previous largest order of at-home was about 1.46 million.

Poe said no cases of the omicron has been confirmed in Malheur County but warned the variant is mostly likely already circulating.

“I feel confident to say that is very likely we have omicron cases but just can’t confirm,” said Poe.

Poe said the best way to fight the new variant is to get vaccinated or, if vaccinated, to get a booster.

“The omicron variant is different enough from delta that having a previous delta infection is not providing enough protection from omicron. The boosters are doing a good job, though we are seeing some mild breakthrough cases. Vaccines are still the end game,” said Poe.

As of last week, the Oregon Health Authority reported that 49% of people 18 and older in Malheur County had at least one dose of vaccine – the second-lowest rate in the state. The state average is 81%.

The state reported that 14% of those 18 and older have received their booster – less than half the state rate of 33%.

News tip? Contact reporter Pat Caldwell at [email protected].

Previous coverage:

Cases hit record in Malheur County, vax rate lowest in Oregon

Malheur County Health Department warns of more Covid hospitalizations, deaths as rates hold

Battle lines drawn in Malheur County as virus surges

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