Health department reports four deaths from Covid but the number of overall cases of the infection continues to fall

The Malheur County Health Department reported four new Covid deaths last week. (The Enterprise/FILE)

ONTARIO – The Malheur County Health Department reported four deaths from Covid last week even as the number of infections locally continues to decline.

Two deaths from Covid – a man and woman, both in their 80s who died at home ­– were reported March 16.

On March 17, the department reported two men, one in his 70s and the other in his 50s, died of Covid in an area hospital. The four cases push the total deaths from Covid in Malheur County since the pandemic began to 104.

The four deaths don’t necessarily signal a trend because there is always a lag between the time a person is diagnosed with Covid and when they die, said Sarah Poe, Malheur County Health Department director.

“The other point is there is a lag in reporting. Covid-19 is on the death certificate and that has to be lined up with a lab confirmed case or a presumptive case. That process on the state end takes a little time,” said Poe.

Still, Poe said that deaths from Covid are probably undercounted.

“We know not everyone is tested for Covid after they die,” said Poe.

Local Covid case rates remain low. For the week ending March 6, the health department reported 10 Covid cases. That is a significant drop from the 560 Covid cases reported in mid-January when the omicron variant of the infection was running wild in the county.

The county endured two substantial Covid surges since last summer. The first surge, propelled by the Delta variant, triggered a high number of cases in the early fall. The second surge, produced by the omicron variant, hit the county hardest in January.

The January omicron surge generated more than 1,700 cases in the county, said Poe. Omicron, said Poe, was more infectious than previous strains of the infection but less severe in terms of symptoms. However, omicron hit some individuals more severely, said Poe.

Poe said there were also likely more cases of the omicron variant than reported.

“I think it is entirely possible we had between 5,000 to 7,000 cases in January,” said Poe.

On the vaccine front, Poe said numbers continue to improve in some age classifications but not in others.

For example, 50% of all Malheur County residents have received at least one dose of the Covid vaccine.

State data also shows 62% of those 65 and older in Malheur County have received at least one dose of vaccine and just over 60% obtained two doses.

Only 35% of those 65 and older in the county received boosters, according to state data.

In the 29 to 49 age group in the county 37% have received two doses of vaccine but only 10% have acquired a booster.

Statewide, 83% of individuals aged 18 years or older have received at least one dose of vaccine.

Poe said Covid is not “going away and likely there will be other variants over time.”

“There is still so much virus in the community because we don’t have sufficient immunity to suppress it,” said Poe.

Poe said Covid case rates are low but “vaccine rates are also low.”

“We will likely see more Covid cases in the future and the best thing we can do is to be vaccinated to prevent illness,” said Poe.

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

Previous coverage:

Local Covid cases rates reach all-time high

Malheur County watchful but plans steady course as omicron spreads in U.S.

Local man tests positive for COVID-19 virus

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