Pandemic Restrictions

Columbia County remains at High Risk in the last state classifications, which means public health and safety restrictions will continue this week.

New Details posted at 1 p.m. June 9

Columbia County remains at High Risk under the state's COVID-19 pandemic health and safety categories in the latest state announcement.

That means public restrictions will continue while the county attempts to boost its current 47.9% vaccination rate.

During the Columbia County Board of County Commissioners meeting Wednesday, County Public Health Director Michael Paul updated the commissioners on the county’s progress toward full vaccination.

“The Governor's office announced a new county risk category … Effective Friday, 21 counties are now at lower risk and four counties are in moderate risk. For Columbia, we remain in high risk with 10 other counties. And that's based on our case rate, and our test positivity,” Paul told the commissioners.

To move down in risk level, Paul said, the county needs to reduce its daily COVID-19 case rates to below 50 cases within 14 days. Currently, the county has an average of six cases per day—making the 14 day average 84.

‘We’ve been plagued over the last two months by outbreaks at schools—we had over a dozen outbreaks at almost every school in the county, and that has really pushed our numbers up,” Paul explained. “As school comes to a close, and our overall infection rate in the state and the region has declined, I hope that very soon, we’ll move down from high risk.”

Another way for the county to move out of high risk, according to Paul, is for the county to reach 65% of the population being vaccinated—with residents 16 years-old and older having one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.

“We’re making progress. We’re growing at about 1%, but we still have a little ways to go,” Paul said. “ We’re at about 50% right now, when you count the data that I’ve received from the state about people who have gone to the VA or outside of the state for vaccination.”

To reach the 65% mark, the county will need to see approximately 20,000 residents vaccinated with at least one dose by that June 21 re-opening date.

“The good news is that if the state reaches the 70% threshold of 70% Oregonians, age 18 or older with at least one dose, then the entire sate restrictions will be lifted,” Paul told the commissioners. “I don’t want us to be left behind, and then be a pocket or a harbor for the coronavirus.”

Following the commissioners meeting. Paul responded to The Chronicle's questions.

The Chronicle: Will you be submitting the county's vaccination plan to the state this week?

Paul: No, we are still developing the plan. It’s a vaccine equity plan. OHA has set the following goals for the plans:

  • Reach parity in vaccination rates by closing gaps in race and ethnicity vaccination rates.
  • Ensure vaccine access to all populations with a focus on populations experiencing racial and ethnic vaccine inequities.
  • Encourage and facilitate local public health partnerships with community-based organizations (CBOs) and employers in their jurisdiction.

The Chronicle: What is the summary of that plan and what does it mean for Columbia County?

Paul: You will have the opportunity to view the plan when the Board approves it and it is submitted to the OHA. The approved plans are posted on the main OHA COVID webpage.

The state has requested responses to 13 questions related to the goals listed in #1.

The Chronicle: If Columbia County does not meet the state vaccination requirement, but the rest of the state reaches the 70% goal by June 21, what happens to Columbia County? Would the county remain at High Risk with the associated state health and safety restrictions? If so, for how long?

Paul: Please see the graphic attached.

Moving to Lower Risk

I refer you to the Governor’s remarkson 6/4/21. I believe she stated that restrictions will be lifted statewide when 70% of Oregonians over age 18 have received at least one dose. The news release following the press conference stated: “Oregon’s Risk Level framework, including all county-based metrics and health and safety restrictions, will be lifted.”

The Chronicle: What specific segment of the county population needs to be vaccinated and why has that segment lagged behind?

Paul: Statewide data published by Oregon Health Authority (OHA) shows the percentage of people who have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine is significantly higher for white people than for many communities of color. It’s true for the Northwest region as well; the data show we have disparities in vaccination rates and you can view the data at the OHA's Oregon COVID-19 Vaccine Effort Metrics | Tableau Public.

We will reach some of the remaining population by further improving access. This means bringing vaccinations to workplaces, schools and events, and expanding pharmacy hours.

We also should acknowledge there are others who are not yet confident the vaccines provide protection and we need to work harder to reassure those communities and families in our county by providing clear, complete and accurate messages. This means addressing all of the reasons influence a person’s decision, including cultural, social, and political factors; individual and group factors; and vaccine-specific factors.

We think we can reach the goal of 65% as published data of school vaccination rates do not support the notion that there is absolute opposition to all vaccinations, but it may take more time for healthcare personnel to engage patients who still have questions about the COVID vaccines in their regular office setting.

The county intends to continue with their vaccination campaign through the summer, in order to prevent the scenario Paul warned about.

Earlier this month, Columbia County launched a public awareness campaign in an effort to increase the vaccination rate. A drive-through clinic was set up last week in Clatskanie and immunizations are continuing at various other locations across the county, including the mass vaccination site at the OHSU Scappoose Clinic.

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

Previous Chronicle coverage post Tuesday, June 8

Governor Kate Brown on Tuesday announced updates to county risk levels under the state's public health framework to reduce transmission and protect Oregonians from COVID-19. A complete list of counties and their associated risk levels is available here.

Lane, Coos, and Wasco counties will move down to Lower Risk, and Josephine and Yamhill counties will move down to Moderate Risk, effective Wednesday, June 9. Harney County will move up from Lower Risk to Moderate Risk due to rising case counts, effective Friday, June 11. Harney County had been granted a caution period from June 4 through June 10. Effective through Thursday, June 17, there will be 21 counties at the Lower Risk level, 4 at Moderate Risk, and 11 at the High Risk level.

"Oregon is so close to more fully reopening our economy, and I am grateful to everyone who has stepped up to get vaccinated. We will soon need to reach fewer than 100,000 Oregonians to achieve our statewide vaccination goal of 70% and lift the county risk level framework," said Governor Kate Brown.

“But, for unvaccinated individuals, COVID-19 remains as large a threat as it ever was. With more contagious variants spreading, far too many Oregonians are still being hospitalized when they could be protected with a vaccine. If you have been waiting to get vaccinated, go get your shot today. It's never been easier to get an appointment, and you may just win $1 million through the Take Your Shot, Oregon campaign."

On May 11, Governor Brown announced that counties that vaccinate at least 65% of their adult residents with at least one dose and submit documentation on how they will close equity gaps in their vaccination efforts are eligible to move to the Lower Risk level.

A county vaccination data dashboard is available on OHA's website. Please note that the dashboard displays state vaccine allocations only, and does not track federally administered vaccine doses. Lane County moved this week after achieving a 65% vaccination rate and submitting an equity plan. All other counties moved based on case counts and positivity rates.

Weekly County Movements

As case rates continue to decline, county risk level changes will be announced every week. Counties can move to lower risk levels based either on vaccination rates and the submission of an equity plan, or declining case rates and positivity rates. The next risk level changes will be announced on Tuesday, June 15, to take effect on Friday, June 18.

When Oregon achieves a first dose 70% statewide vaccination rate for residents 18 or older, Oregon will lift all risk level health and safety restrictions. Some restrictions based on CDC guidance for use of masks and physical distancing may remain in place.

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