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Case numbers stay high in Central Oregon region while dropping across the state

PMG PHOTO: PAT KRUIS - While COVID Infection rates fall in the rest of the state, case counts in Central Oregon counties Jefferson, Deschutes and Crook remain high

Three Central Oregon counties had the highest rate of new COVID-19 infections across the state for the week ending Oct. 29.

The new infection numbers come as Oregon ended an eight-week drop in new cases, but with a small uptick in new cases over the previous week, according to the Oregon Health Authority County COVID-19 Community Transmission Report.

The report, released each week by the health authority, lists the total number of cases, the cases per 100,000 residents and positive test rates of all counties with a population over 2,000.

The key marker is the per capita number — the rate of cases per 100,000 residents — that allows for a comparison between counties of different sizes.

For the week ending Oct. 29, the top rates statewide were:

• Jefferson County — 542 new cases per 100,000 people.

• Crook County — 469 new cases per 100,000 people.

• Deschutes County — 401 new cases per 100,000 people.

The statewide rate was 192 cases per 100,000 people.

Sherman County — the state's second least populous county — had a rate of 791 cases per 100,000. But the sample size is so small it can lead to wide swings in totals each week.

"Where the rest of the state is celebrating overall decreases that news is getting out as perceived as state wide decrease," says Jefferson County Public Health Director Michael Baker. "Yet here locally we've seen an increase in some cases and at least not a decrease."

Baker blames the higher numbers in Jefferson County on lower vaccination rates, less use of masks, less social distancing. "We're acting like it's over," says Baker, "That obviously is not the case at least not in Central Oregon.

Since sweeping into Oregon in late June, the highly contagious delta variant drove infections, hospitalizations and deaths to new records for the pandemic that first reached Oregon in February 2020.

Oregon reported just 81 deaths from COVID-19 in July — the lowest mark since June 2020, early in the pandemic. But the variant's fatal impact rose to 421 deaths in August, and a record 653 in September.

October showed a decline to 366 deaths — a number that still ranked the month as the fifth most fatal of the 20 months measured by the Oregon Health Authority.

The record marks came despite the presence of vaccines against the coronavirus. The state recently reported that 85% of eligible adults had been vaccinated. It also implemented federal recommendations to allow for booster shots for those who had been vaccinated earlier.

OHA said the variant attacked the unvaccinated. While breakthrough cases of COVID-19 have risen somewhat during the spike, those who have received immunization account for less than 5% of cases requiring hospitalization and under 1% of deaths.

The spike peaked just after Labor Day and has begun a steep drop, but at a rate slower than public health officials had forecast a month ago. Hospitalizations are now expected to remain above 400 people per day into early December.

The percentage of COVID tests that are positive is another comparative factor. On Nov. 3 Jefferson County had 9.2% test positivity, Crook County 17.6%, and Deschutes County 12.6%. The state as a whole had 6.6% positivity.

Baker expects case rates to start declining in the county by mid to late December. "I think we'll have so many new cases so many existing cases and so many people vaccinated we will by default be nearing a true herd immunity when there will be so few people left to infect."

In addition to encouraging everyone to get the COVID vaccine, Baker also urges people 18 and older who have been vaccinated to get the booster shot if it's been six months since their last vaccine. And he encourages parents to consider vaccinations for their children ages five to 11. "Right now age 10-19 is our number one age group for new COVID cases," says Baker. "We're blessed that we haven't seen a lot of school spread, but we see a lot of spread with school age kids." Baker says school age kids contact the virus outside school hours and take it home to their families.

"We get the vaccine to protect the community as well as ourselves," says Baker. "Each person vaccinated stops the availability of a new host, a new infection and even an new variant."

Pat Kruis contributed to this report.

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