A Moderna Covid vaccine vial with a soon to be filled vaccine passport card at Malheur Drug. The Malheur County Health Department reported Tuesday that two more local residents died from Covid. (The Enterprise/AUSTIN JOHNSON)

Thursday UPDATE: State officials and the Malheur County Health Department reported another local Covid death, a 75-year-old man who tested positive on Sept. 19 and died on Sept. 24 at St Luke’s Boise Medical Center. The death of the man pushes the total number deaths from Covid in Malheur County to 70.

The other two deaths - a man and woman in their 70s - were reported Tuesday.

The last death in Malheur County from Covid was reported Sept. 3.

“It is very sad and we feel very bad for the families,” said Angie Sillonis, public information officer for the health department.

The latest Covid surge continues to roll through the county and the local area may face more cases and deaths from the infection, said Sarah Poe, Malheur County Health Department director.

“I suspect we are going into a period with more severe disease and death,” said Poe Tuesday.

Poe said 16 people from Malheur County were hospitalized with Covid Monday and 14 were admitted to area care centers Tuesday.

Hospitals, said Poe, are at or near capacity because of the latest surge.

“Hospitals are now only hospitalizing those who are really sick,” said Poe.

Locally, health department statistics showed Covid cases decreased for the week ending Sept. 25. The health department reported 196 Covid cases for the week – down from 288 for the week ending Sept. 12.

Yet the county’s Covid positivity rate – the percentage of those tested who are found to be infected – stood at 19.6% for the week ending Sept. 25. The Covid positivity rate is used to gauge how far the virus has infiltrated the community.

“Which means there are likely more cases than have been identified,” said Poe.

Poe said while the drop in Covid cases was encouraging, she still urged caution.

“Let’s not get too excited about 196. That’s still a ton of cases,” said Poe.

Poe said one of her major concerns now is hospital capacity.

“We are listening and responding to the serious calls from our health care providers locally and regionally saying they do not have the capacity for everyone who needs a high level of care. That means everyone who needs a high level of care from a hospital,” said Poe.

Poe said the Covid virus is firmly entrenched in Malheur County.

“The solution to making sure you don’t get really ill and overwhelm our health care system is to be vaccinated. The idea we will just avoid the spread, I think we are beyond that at this time,” said Poe.

Poe said one piece of good news is the number of people who are getting vaccinated. She said an average of 35 people a day are getting their first dose of vaccine.

According to the state, 45% of Malheur County residents 18 and older have received at least one vaccination. Statewide, 75 percent of those 18 and older have received at least one vaccination.

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

Previous coverage:

Malheur County teeters on the edge of a major crisis as virus spreads

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

Rising Covid cases sound alarm bells for area health officials

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