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A week after dropping from 'extreme,' county on target for 'low' as vaccines become more available

 - Jefferson County Public Health Director Michael Baker, shown here during a COVID testing event late last year, reported that the county had only nine cases last week, reflecting remarkable improvement. Baker recently was named Public Servant of the Year by the Madras-Jefferson County Chamber of Commerce.

Just one week after dropping from "extreme risk," Jefferson County is on the path to dropping another and possibly two levels of risk, opening the doors for next-to-normal interactions, freedoms this county hasn't seen in five months.

"Which is phenomenal considering where we've been," says county Public Health Director Michael Baker.

In the past two calendar weeks, Jefferson County had 34 coronavirus cases total, which would put a county this size in the "moderate risk" category.

"That's the good news," says Baker. "The even better news is with just nine cases in one week, if we can stay below 20 cases for this next week, we have the potential to be classified as a low-risk category."

Since November, the label extreme risk meant businesses like theaters, bowling alleys and gyms remained closed. Restrictions limited restaurants to takeout and delivery service.

Dropping to the high risk category, fewer than 60 COVID cases over a two-week period, allowed restaurants to open for indoor dining, and other businesses to open, at 25% capacity. Outdoor gatherings went from a maximum of 50 people to 75 people.

At moderate risk, fewer than 45 cases over two weeks, opens businesses up to 50% capacity. Outdoor gatherings go to a maximum of 150 people.

At low risk, fewer than 30 cases over two weeks, outdoor capacity goes to a maximum of 300 people.

The state will announce Jefferson County's risk category Tuesday, March 23.

"We're actually getting a double dose of immunity," says Baker. About 15% of people in the county have received their vaccines. "And we have natural immunity from those (about 2,000) who've already had COVID."

Baker says the county's vaccine supply is growing exponentially. "To date, we've been getting 100 to 400 doses a week." Starting March 29, the county will start getting 1,400 doses a week. "And that's not including doses that are going to Safeway and Bi-Mart. Now Mosaic Medical is getting its own supply."

When the department gets an extra shipment of Moderna, it sets up pop-up vaccine clinics.

Wednesday, March 17 from noon to 6 p.m. Public Health will partner with the National Guard to vaccinate 650 people at the First Baptist Church of Madras at 85 NE A St. in Madras.

All persons eligible include health care workers, first responders, educators, childcare workers, and people age 65 and older.

"We are going through every single name on our wait list," Baker says, "to see if they're interested in participating in getting a vaccine right away."

The Public Health Department will hold another vaccination clinic Friday at the Ranch Chapel on Crooked River Ranch from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

People who want to participate in either of these clinics can call the Jefferson County Public Health Department for an appointment at 541-475-4456.

Another clinic will be held at the Community Hall in Camp Sherman Friday, March 26 from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. People should hold off calling until Monday, March 22 to make appointments for that clinic.

"At the end of the day, we'll see how many doses we have left." Baker says people who want doses but couldn't make an appointment or are not yet eligible can come during the last hour of the clinic in case people who made appointments don't show up and make doses available. "We're not going to walk out of there without making sure every dose gets into the community."

As the supply comes in, public health gets the vaccine into arms. "Our goal is to never leave Friday night vaccine in the fridge." Baker says he wants to get every last drop of vaccine into the community as soon as possible.

At this rate, Baker believes by May 1 they'll be vaccinating everyone age 18 and older with no eligibility restrictions. "I can practically guarantee we'll be ahead of our governor's estimated timelines by at least a month," says Baker. "We're at a point we're able to report some good news finally."

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