Lincoln County will remain in the high risk category through May 6, with its rate of new COVID-19 cases steadily climbing since February and vaccine providers pushing to fill empty vaccination appointments, prompting them to open some clinics to walk-ins.
On Monday, all Oregonians ages 16 and older became eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. Statewide, 1.63 million people have received at least one shot, and Lincoln County still led the pack as of Wednesday, with 4.89 out of every 10 residents fully vaccinated or in progress. Meanwhile, new virus cases are on the rise locally and throughout Oregon.
Florence Pourtal, deputy director of Lincoln County Public Health, told the Lincoln County Board of Commissioners Monday during its regular meeting that there had been 100 new COVID cases in the county during April, and the rolling two-week case rate has increased weekly since Feb. 27.
From Feb. 14 to Feb. 27, there were 37.3 new COVID-19 cases per 100,000 residents. The rate doubled by March 20, putting the county in the moderate risk level under the state health framework. On April 3, it climbed above 100, increasing the county’s risk level again, to high.
Pourtal said there were 159.6 new cases per 100,000 in the county between April 4 and 17, another increase but not enough to push into the extreme risk category, in which the most severe business restrictions are imposed.
Even if the county had reached that 200 case rate threshold, Pourtal said, there were now two additional metrics that had to be met for any county to be moved to extreme. There must be at least 300 hospitalized COVID patients statewide and a 15 percent increase in the hospitalization average during the previous week.
Were it not for those new metrics, 11 counties that remain in high risk would have been re-categorized as extreme beginning April 23.
The deputy director did not detail the source of local cases Monday. She told commissioners the previous week that many of April’s cases were presumptive — people who began exhibiting COVID symptoms after contact with a positive individual — and tied to outbreaks.
According to the Oregon Health Authority weekly outbreak report April 21, which lists outbreaks of five or more cases at workplaces with 30 or more employees, 21 people have tested positive in association with an outbreak at Kyllo’s Seafood and Grill in Lincoln City. The health authority first reported that outbreak in last week’s report, listing 18 cases. Case counts can include employees and their close contacts outside of the workplace.
The report says the outbreak investigation at Kyllo’s began April 4, with a latest onset date of April 10. According to the restaurant’s website, it temporarily closed “due to a resurgence (of COVID-19) in our area,” and planned to reopen April 23 (today).
There have also been 14 cases associated with an outbreak at the Lincoln County Jail, according to the OHA report. Sheriff Curtis Landers first reported six cases among adults in custody at the end of March, then two staff and two additional inmate cases following another round of testing. No new cases at the jail have been reported following subsequent tests, so it’s likely four cases were outside contacts.
Pourtal told commissioners, “I thought this week I would give you a state level update.” Citing an April 16 Oregon Health Authority press conference, she said daily cases in Oregon have more than doubled during the last month, from an average of 249 to 595.
“Everybody’s fatigued. The public’s fatigued, the public health workforce is fatigued, the business community is fatigued, we’re all fatigued,” Pourtal said. “That leads to maybe not being as mindful about taking precaution and prevention measures we’ve been taking for more than a year now.”
She said some recent outbreaks were attributable to people who “decided that it would be OK to hang out indoors and not necessarily physically distance or wear a mask,” according to state health officer Dr. Dean Sidelinger.
For example, a multi-night karaoke event led to 36 cases, which resulted in three hospitalizations and one death. There were 15 cases from a concert at a small music venue, and a backyard gathering of 10 people ended with all attendees being infected.
Additionally, Pourtal said, “We are definitely seeing the California variants taking hold in Oregon, and those variants are even more transmissible.” She said Lincoln County’s region of Oregon has had 175 cases of the B.1.49 variant, which is 20 percent more transmissible, and some treatments may be less effective against it.
“So it is even more important to continue observing all those prevention measures and get a vaccine. The sooner folks vaccinate, the fewer new variants we will see. We’re kind of in a race against variants,” Pourtal said.
And while the county has maintained the highest vaccination rate in the state for two straight weeks, some recent clinics saw a lot of no shows, Pourtal said.
With empty slots available during the April 21 event at the fairgrounds in Newport, a call was put out for walk-ins to use up thawed doses. Clinics April 24 at Samaritan’s Center for Health Education in Newport and North Lincoln Fire & Rescue’s Taft station have also been opened to walk-ins.
The health department’s initial goal is to vaccinate 70 percent of residents — about 10,000 more than have already received a shot. No one knows the exact number needed to achieve true herd immunity, the point at which enough people are immune that the virus can longer effectively spread through the population. Some estimates put that vaccination rate at 90 percent or higher.
On April 8, the Oregon Health Authority said it had identified 168 positive COVID-19 cases among people in the state who were fully vaccinated, known as breakthrough cases. That’s 0.024 percent. Nineteen of those people were hospitalized, and three died.
Pourtal said the local breakthrough case rate was similarly low. Out of more than 16,000 fully vaccinated county residents, “maybe two” were infected anyway.
The health department continues to conduct outreach to people who are homebound and to collaborate with Latinx and Indigenous communities. It’s also working with the Lincoln County School District to offer vaccines to eligible high schoolers. The Pfizer vaccine is authorized for 16 and 17 year olds.
The county website (tinyurl.com/e6wpyzr8) has a list of vaccination clinics run by the health department, Samaritan Health Services, North Lincoln Fire & Rescue, and Pacific West Ambulance, as well as links to schedule an appointment through a local pharmacy.
Also during Monday’s meeting, commissioners appointed Pourtal the county’s public health administrator, a state-mandated role previously held by Rebecca Austen, who retired as director of Lincoln County Public Health on April 2.