CHD vaccine

Nicole Billman, a nurse at the Center for Human Development, La Grande, receives a dose of COVID-19 vaccine from CHD medical assistant Nancy Davila. Billman is one of 364 people in Union County who received their first injection of vaccine as of Thursday, Jan. 7, 2021.

UNION COUNTY — It was a week of disheartening revelations and some encouraging developments in the fight against COVID-19.

Even with vaccination underway and expanding in Union County and across Oregon, Gov. Kate Brown’s target of 12,000 vaccinations per day puts the state on track for full vaccination in late 2022. And the vaccine rollout has lagged well behind that target.

However, Union County residents appear to have won a victory in their efforts to reopen businesses, and the county is slated to drop from the “extreme risk” category of public health measures to the “moderate risk category,” which carries far more lenient restrictions on dining and indoor activity.

More new cases and deaths

From Jan. 1-7, Union County recorded 18 new cases of COVID-19. While that number was relatively low compared to weeks past, it more than doubled late in the week as the Center for Human Development reported 14 new cases Thursday, Jan. 7, and another 20 on Friday.

The sudden spike to 34 new cases in two days is likely an indication of a surge in infections following the Christmas and New Year’s holidays. The total also pushed Union County over the 1,000-case threshold.

As of Friday, Union County had recorded 1,032 cases of COVID-19, which have resulted in 16 deaths.

The county now accounts for a disproportionately high share of Oregon’s cases and deaths during the pandemic. Union County’s population accounts for roughly .64% of Oregon’s population but has tallied .84% of statewide cases as of Thursday, along with just under 1% of statewide deaths.

Risk remains extreme

The Oregon Health Authority began listing Union County as “moderate risk” this week after the county recorded 43 cases from Dec. 20 to Jan. 2. Test positivity during that time was 3.9%, qualifying Union County to drop out of extreme and into moderate risk safety measures.

However, those changes would not take effect until after a “warning week” had passed, and during that week, the county saw the first signs of a new surge in COVID-19 with 34 cases in two days.

The spike puts the county at 64 cases as of Friday for the two-week period from Dec. 27 to Jan. 9, putting Union County back over the threshold for classification as “extreme risk.” Just days from reopening, an apparent new wave of COVID-19 will force Union County to remain under the most stringent public health measures.

Vaccinations begin to roll out

Union County’s public health arm, the Center for Human Development, has begun vaccinating an extended group of frontline healthcare workers.

Groups one through four under phase 1a of Oregon’s vaccination plan are eligible to get their vaccines in Union County. Here’s a breakdown of the groups from the Oregon Health Authority:

• Group 1: hospitals; urgent care; skilled nursing and memory care facility health care personnel and residents; tribal health programs; EMS providers and other first responders.

• Group 2: other long term care facilities and congregate care sites including health care personnel and residents; hospice programs; mobile crisis care and related services; secure transport; individuals working in a correctional setting.

• Group 3: outpatient settings serving specific high-risk groups; in home care; day treatment services; non-emergency medical transport.

• Group 4: Health care personnel in other outpatient, public health and early learning settings; death care workers.

As of Thursday, 364 people in Union County had received their first injections of a COVID-19 vaccine, along with 74,914 across Oregon as of Friday, according to OHA. The number of Oregonians vaccinated lags far behind the number of doses delivered to distribution sites across the state — 252,350, per the Health Authority.

“We understand that there may be concerns around safety and effectiveness of the (vaccine),” CHD said in a statement. “The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are safe and effective. Both vaccines were found to be over 94% effective and neither reported serious safety issues. The vaccines were tested in large-scale research, which included adults from all backgrounds.”

Statewide vaccination has rolled out at a crawl in the weeks since Oregon vaccinated its first healthcare workers. The most people vaccinated in a single day in Oregon stands at 7,620 on Dec. 30.

Brown has set a goal of 12,000 vaccinations per day by Jan. 18, but even if Oregon manages to reach that goal, it puts the state on a depressingly slow pace toward widespread vaccination. At 12,000 vaccinations per day, Oregon’s 4.2 million residents would not each have the opportunity to get their two doses until late November or early December of 2022.

At the average daily vaccination rate of roughly 3,000 injections per day, every Oregonian would not have the opportunity to get their two doses of vaccine until roughly September 2028.

Officials, including OHA Director Pat Allen, have said they expect improvements to the logistics of vaccine distribution to speed that rate toward the governor’s goal of 12,000 per day by the end of next week.

Allen conceded in a press conference on Friday that widespread immunization and herd immunity was many months, and perhaps even more than a year, away.

With full vaccination in Oregon now appearing to be a long-term possibility, the end of the pandemic, mask-wearing and social distancing — which to many had seemed to be rapidly approaching — has now grown only more distant. Allen blamed overly optimistic timelines purported at the federal level for raising hopes prematurely.

Those in Union County who fall into either the 1a category, listed above, or 1b, which includes essential workers, can anticipate being contacted by their employer about vaccination, according to CHD.

Those who are eligible were encouraged to contact CHD by phone at 541-624-2179 or email at vaccine@chdinc.org to schedule their vaccination. Interested parties must provide their name, phone number, email address, place of employment and occupation/job title.

Reporter

Newest reporter with the La Grande Observer and Union County native. Coverage includes COVID-19, news stories, sports, business and community issues. If you've got a news tip, send it to news@lagrandeobserver.com

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