Counties surrounding Columbia County have moved to Moderate and Lower Risk classifications under the state's pandemic health and safety guidelines but Columbia isn't there yet.

Vaccinations Needed

More Columbia County residents need to be vaccinated before the county is allowed to move our of the state’s High Risk classification and see health and safety restrictions lifted.

While Oregon nears Governor Kate Brown's goal of a 70% vaccination rate allowing COVID-19 restrictions to be lifted, state health officials are monitoring key factors.

The Oregon Health Authority’s (OHA) COVID-19 Weekly Report is one of the main factors under review. The latest report released Wednesday, May 26, shows decreases in daily cases, hospitalizations and deaths from the previous week.

• OHA reported 3,090 new daily cases of COVID-19 during the week of Monday, May 17, through Sunday, May 23. That represents a 25% decrease from the previous week.

• New COVID-19 related hospitalizations fell to 224, down from 265 last week and the lowest figure in five weeks.

• Reported COVID-19 related deaths fell to 34, down from 57 last week.

• There were 107,233 tests for COVID-19 for the week of May 16 through May 22 — a 4% increase from last week. The percentage of positive tests fell from 6.4% to 5.4%.

• People 70 years of age and older have accounted for 38% of COVID-19 related hospitalizations and 75% of COVID-19 related deaths.

• The COVID-19 Weekly Outbreak Report shows 32 active COVID-19 outbreaks in senior living communities and congregate living settings, with three or more confirmed cases and one or more COVID-19 related deaths.

Columbia County’s classification

Columbia County’s COVID-19 cases have slowly decreased over the past week but the county remains in the state’s High Risk classification.

The High Risk classification includes restrictions on indoor restaurant dining, fitness centers and gyms, indoor theaters, concert halls, museums, faith institutions, funeral homes, and retail stores.

Columbia County Public Health Director Michael Paul told The Chronicle that for the county to move out of risk classifications and allow restrictions to be lifted, more residents need to be vaccinated.

Under the state’s heath and safety plan to lift the pandemic restrictions, counties must reach 65% of the county population 16 or older with a first vaccine dose and submit a complete plan to the Oregon Health Authority which details how the county will close the equity gaps in its vaccination rates.

Paul said Columbia County Health is finalizing its equity plan and according to data from the OHA, slightly more than 20,000 Columbia County residents have received at least one COVID-19 dose.

“This is almost 50% of the eligible residents who are age 16 or older,” he said. “However, the county will not move to low risk this week because the state has set a benchmark of 65%, and the county has not yet submitted a vaccine equity plan. The good news is that our case count continues to decline, based on data for the most recent weekly monitoring period between May 9 and May 22.”

Next steps

Paul said he is reviewing additional vaccination details from the health department’s community partners and once he has developed the county’s required state equity plan it will be reviewed by the Columbia County Commissioners before it is submitted to the state. That could happen next week, according to Paul.

In an earlier published interview with The Chronicle, Paul said there are 43,366 residents age 16 or older, according to data provided by Portland State University and 28,000 residents would need to be vaccinated to reach a vaccination rate of 65% of individuals (age 16 or older).

As of May 12, 18,360 Columbia County residents had received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.

Paul said there are currently several providers offering vaccination appointments in Columbia County, including primary care offices, school-based health centers, pharmacies and fire districts.

The unvaccinated

According to Paul, the largest demographics of remaining unvaccinated residents are under age 65.

“They are busier and could be taking care of a household and balancing employment so they need appointments to be accessible and convenient,” he said. “Younger residents heard a different message about risk over the last year so they may be slower to make an appointment. They may not rush to a vaccination site if they don’t have an underlying health condition.”

Paul said there also are still residents with health issues or disabilities or who face language barriers, which can make getting inoculated against COVID-19 seem overwhelming.

“They may not have a primary care home, or they may have a transportation barrier or some other barrier to overcome,” he said.

Paul added that the county health department continues to look at data that isn’t associated with a political boundary, including factors such as income, disability status, race and ethnicity.

“I would not deny that there are residents who would say they probably or definitely will not get vaccinated, but I am optimistic about getting 65% of our eligible residents vaccinated,” he said.

For more information about COVID-19 vaccinations, call Columbia County Public Health at 503-397-7247.

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