The county still lags behind most of the state in the percentage of residents who received a Covid vaccine. (The Enterprise/Liliana Frankel).

ONTARIO – Health experts in Malheur County face a battle on two fronts: the highly contagious delta variant, and widely circulated misinformation.

During a Covid surge that has overrun hospitals throughout the state, five Oregonians were hospitalized for consuming ivermectin - a dewormer for horses and cattle - as an alternative to safe Covid treatment or vaccination.

Oregon Health & Science University announced the hospitalizations last week and said that the Oregon Poison Center has handled 25 ivermectin cases between Aug. 1 and Sept. 14.

“There’s a lot of misinformation around, and you may have heard that it’s okay to take large doses of ivermectin. It is not okay,” said the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on their website. The department added the inappropriate use of ivermectin can cause vomiting and diarrhea, seizures and death.

Getting vaccinated is the safest and most effective way to prevent serious illness from Covid, according to health experts. 

Malheur County still has the lowest vaccination rate for total population in the state, at 35.5% as of Sept. 17, according to OHA data.

The county reported 211 new cases the week of Sept. 5. That’s nine less than the week before, but the county is expected to have a higher case count in the coming weeks, according to the Malheur County Health Department.

“Exactly a month ago we had 113,” said Sarah Poe, director of the Malheur County Health Department. “We are nearly double that now.”

School quarantine numbers have mostly also gone down slightly. 

As of September 20, Vale School District had 37 students and staff members in quarantine, eight of whom were isolating due to positive Covid tests.

Ontario School District had more than 66 students and staff quarantining, with 36 positive tests. 

As of September 17, Adrian School District had five students and staff quarantining. 

Nyssa School District superintendent Darren Johnson said that an accurate count of students and staff quarantining was still pending, but two staff and eight students tested positive for Covid.

At the health department’s testing event at the Malheur County fairgrounds on Tuesday, Sept. 14, 44 out of 160 people tested positive for Covid. 

Poe said that Covid cases in Ada and Canyon County in Idaho have impacted Malheur County’s ability to transfer people to other hospitals.

Health care officials at St. Luke’s Health Care Systems, Saint Alphonsus Health System and Valley Family Health Care have said for weeks that unvaccinated patients are inundating regional hospitals, accounting for over 95% of Covid patients needed intensive care.

Last week, Idaho activated its care-rationing protocol after a request by St. Luke’s, according to a press release by the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare.

Most Covid patients from Malheur County are sent to Idaho.

In Idaho, Crisis Standards of Care means that patients will be put in hallways or tents, with hours-long wait times and further transfers, according to the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare’s website.

Resources, including beds and ventilators, will also be allocated to certain patients. 

“In other words, patients with a greater likelihood of surviving their illness may be given a critical care bed or ventilator over patients less likely to survive,” the department said.

St. Luke’s reported that it admitted 257 Covid patients on Sept. 16, with around 93% of them being unvaccinated.

The Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization is hosting the Love Your Neighbor Vaccine Clinic in Nyssa at the Rio Vista Apartments between noon and 5 p.m. Friday through Sunday, Sept. 24-26. Along with the Pfizer and Johnson and Johnson vaccines, the clinic will include a food truck, raffle baskets and a DJ. There will be a free meal voucher with each vaccination.

There are free Covid testing events in the Ontario area every weekday for the next month. For more information, visit the Malheur County Health Department website at malheurhealth.org.

Reporter Pat Caldwell contributed reporting for this story.

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