The people of Malheur County in the past month made good progress on driving down the spread of Covid. But surges recently threaten to keep us all in the “extreme risk” category that continues to limit normal life.

Through January, the county posted some improving numbers. These figures indicate how fast the coronavirus is spreading – and whether that rate is slowing down. Consider the key three measures used by state and county officials to gauge the relative health of Malheur County:

• New reported infections over two weeks. At the start of the month, we stood at 209. A week ago, that was down to 161. But there is work to be done. The number has to get below 60 to loosen up limits.

• Rate of infections, measured by a common formula. At the start of the month, the rate was 652. A week ago, that was down to 503. That number has to get below 200 to loosen up limits.

• Positive tests for Covid, measured as a percentage of all tests. At the start of the month, the rate was 12.5%. A week ago, that had climbed to 14.3%. The number has to get below 10%.

That the virus isn’t done with us, that became evident Friday, when the Vale School District had to announce it was shutting down Vale High School. Students had returned to something close to normal schooling just two weeks earlier.

Indications are that students became infected in the community, perhaps at social gatherings where health precautions were ignored. There is no indication that they passed it on in the hallways or classrooms, but the risk was there so closing was prudent.

Consider the disruption. Students, swinging back into a daily rhythm of classes, are now back home. Teachers have to pivot back to teaching through a computer screen. And school support staff – counselors and more – are now in a version of hold.

School district officials are to be commended – not pounded – for making this tough call. Their judgment, made in concert with health experts, ought to be respected.

But there is also a warning here for other school districts around the county. Nyssa schools returned to the classroom last week. Ontario, the county’s largest system, goes back in just days from now.

Parents and students ought to all take seriously the precautions in place across the community to slow and stop the spread of the virus.

Sarah Poe, director of the Malheur County Health Department, has worked tirelessly over recent months with her staff to both protect the community health and find ways to get us to open. Poe and her staff can’t do it alone – all of us need to buckle down and heed the precautions. She warned starkly of the new outbreaks that likely will make our Covid numbers even worse.

“This hurts schools and businesses and risks the health and safety of the elderly and most vulnerable. We need to act swiftly as a community to stop the spread,” Poe said.

And for those who still want to pooh-pooh the virus, consider the fate of Jerry Erstrom. As reporter Pat Caldwell recounts in a remarkable story this week, Erstrom was taken ill suddenly with Covid and died. His family is sharing the account of his passing so people have a clear understanding of the risk of underestimating the coronavirus.

With vaccines now rolling out, there is reason for optimism. But getting everyone in the county vaccinated will take months. Until then, we all need to be patient and use the power each individual has to corral this pandemic. It’s up to us, not the government.  - LZ

Contact editor Les Zaitz, [email protected]

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