Cases of Covid plunging in Malheur County but it’s not “all clear” yet, officials say

Sarah Poe, Malheur County Health Department director (The Enterprise/file)

ONTARIO ­– The latest coronavirus surge which has sickened nearly 2,000 people in Malheur County since the start of the year is now fading, according to the Malheur County Health Department.

But the medical issues will take longer to resolve, according to a report issued Tuesday by Sarah Poe, health department director.

“We expect to see more hospitalizations and deaths as these usually lag several weeks after the surge,” Poe said. “The most important thing any of us can do is to be vaccinated. Second most important thing is to help someone else get vaccinated.”

She also said that the pending elimination of the state mask mandate for indoor settings doesn’t mean everyone should stop wearing masks. State authorities announced this week they intend to drop the mandate no later than March 31.

“We do strongly recommend high-risk individuals continue wearing masks in indoor settings after mask requirements are lifted,” Poe wrote.

A chart released Feb. 8 by the Malheur County Health Department shows the surges of Covid illnesses in the county since the start of the pandemic, showing the impact of omicron in recent weeks.

A series of vaccination and testing clinics are scheduled in the coming weeks, but the county crossed a grim threshold recently.

The state reported the 100th death of a Malheur County resident related to Covid.

The victim was a 51-year-old man who tested positive for the virus on Jan. 29 and died two days later at Saint Alphonsus Medical Center Ontario.

“This is a tragic reminder that we all need to do better at taking care of the people around us,” said Angie Sillonis, health department public information officer. “By taking a few precautions, like staying home when we’re sick, wearing masks and getting vaccinated, each of us could help save lives.”

Poe said the county still trails most of the state in the rate of vaccinations, ranking 35th out of the 36 counties. She said about half of county residents 18 and older have received at least one dose. That compare to the Oregon statewide average of 83% and the Idaho average of 67%.

Poe again reiterated the safety of the vaccines, contradicting social media claims that there are major risks getting vaccinated.

“The vaccines are extremely safe and effective at what they’ve been designed to do – prevent hospitalizations and deaths,” Poe said in her report.

She said the health department will continue its weekly walk-in vaccination clinics at its office at 1108 S.W. 4th St. in Ontario. No appointment is necessary, the shots are available from 9 a.m. to noon and from 1 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. each Wednesday. Those getting a coronavirus vaccination get a $25 gift card.

Poe also announced that the health department expects to get doses of Pfizer vaccine suitable for those age 6 months to 4 years. Those shots should be available at the walk-in clinics beginning Feb. 23.

And responding to “overwhelming requests,” a drive-through clinic to test for Covid will operate each Thursday, starting Feb. 10, at the Ontario Fire Department station at the Ontario Airport. The free testing is available from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. and is set to run on Thursdays through March 3.

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