All Portland metro counties urge public to wear face masks
As the more contagious Delta variant of COVID-19 becomes the dominant strain among those testing positive for the virus in the United States, community spread in Oregon is increasing at a rate that has public health experts concerned.
Multnomah, Clackamas and Washington counties have each issued recommendations urging the public to wear facemasks.
"COVID-19 cases are rising in Washington County because unvaccinated people — who are not protected from the more contagious Delta variant — are becoming infected at higher rates," officials in Washington County wrote.
They continued: "Virtually all deaths and hospitalizations in the U.S. are among unvaccinated people. The best protection against the virus is vaccination, so we urge everyone who has not yet been vaccinated to do so as soon as possible. Infections do occur infrequently in fully vaccinated people, but they tend to be mild."
In Clackamas County, officials posted a brief statement linking to Oregon Health Authority guidance released July 27 in light of the CDC's changing recommendations.
"These updated mask guidances are recommendations and are not required," officials for Clackamas County added.
Similar recommendations are also in place in Columbia County.
Virus surge not limited to tri-county area
Cases are spiking in Yamhill County as well, leading health officials to echo a statewide recommendation that all individuals — regardless of vaccination status — wear masks in indoor, public settings.
"Yamhill County has experienced a recent increase in COVID-19 cases," a release from the county said. "It is presumed that the Delta variant of COVID-19 is present within Oregon and Yamhill County, which is responsible for this concerning increase. Current data shows that the Delta variant is as much as twice as contagious than previous strains. While both vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals have contracted this strain, it is primarily affecting those who are not yet vaccinated and virtually all deaths and hospitalizations have been unvaccinated individuals."
Since plateauing at a weekly case count of 22 the week of June 20, Yamhill County has seen weeks of 38 cases, 42 cases, 39 cases and 65 cases. The number of people hospitalized for the virus went from zero the week of June 20 to nine as of July 29. A total of 81 people have died from the virus in the county since the pandemic began.
With the percentage of eligible people fully vaccinated for COVID-19 sitting at just under 56% in Yamhill County, there is room for the virus to continue to spread rapidly in the community, particularly among the unvaccinated, who comprise nearly all of those now being hospitalized.
Herd immunity against COVID-19 can only be reached if a sufficient percentage of the population is vaccinated, between 70% and 85%, according to some scientific experts.
"According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) transmission indicator, Yamhill County is experiencing substantial transmission (50 to 99.99 cases per 100,000 people)," the county health department's release said.
They continued: "Given the recent statewide increase in cases, OHA now recommends that even those in low transmission communities wear masks as well, vaccinated and unvaccinated alike. Yamhill County Public Health echoes these recommendations and encourages community members to mask up when in indoor, public spaces."
Yamhill County Health and Human Services director Lindsey Manfrin called the increased spread "concerning" and encouraged everyone above the age of 12 who hasn't received the vaccine yet to get vaccinated as soon as possible. Shots are more readily available than ever before as demand has gone down. Locations with available appointments can be found at vaccinefinder.org.
Studies have proven the two-shot Pfizer and Moderna and one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccines to be safe and effective with minimal instances of serious side effects. While some vaccinated individuals have contracted COVID-19 — referred to as "breakthrough" cases — upward of 90% of serious COVID cases in the U.S. are among the unvaccinated.
"Right now, our vaccines are effective," Manfrin said. "We need more people vaccinated to prevent opportunities for the virus to mutate in a way that makes the vaccines less effective. With the Delta variant, this is more urgent than ever. The highest spread of cases and severe outcomes is happening in places with low vaccination rates."
Tribune reporter Zane Sparling contributed to this story.
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