LINCOLN COUNTY — Though Lincoln County currently has the highest reported vaccination rate in Oregon, new cases in the county are still on the rise since the start of April.

As of Monday, April 12, the county had 63 newly reported COVID-19 cases, not far behind the total cases for February at 67 and March at 78; and indicative of a steadily rising trend since cases dropped off dramatically in January.

Florence Pourtal, deputy director of Lincoln County Public Health, told the Lincoln County Board of Commissioners on Monday that the rise in cases this month firmly established the county in the ‘high risk” category, but there is still some breathing room before the county needs to worry about returning to “extreme risk” after the state made several changes to how it determines risk level.

The county’s current case rate is 149 per 100,000 residents, with the “extreme risk” category requiring 200 cases per 100,000 residents. There are also two statewide metrics to consider: whether patients in the state occupy more than 300 hospital beds or if the county were to see a 15 percent increase over the state average in a week.

If not for recent changes to the state’s guidelines for determining county risk levels, nearby Marion County would have moved into “extreme” risk” this week, Pourtal said.

Pourtal said many of the new cases this month were presumptive — individuals in contact with confirmed cases that began exhibiting COVID-like symptoms — and were mostly related to major outbreaks during the last week, citing the six-person outbreak at the Lincoln County Jail and outbreaks among restaurant staff as origin points for many of the presumptive cases.

Most of April’s cases came from the northern part of Lincoln County, with 29 cases in Lincoln City and eight in Otis. Newport has seen 13 cases this month, while Siletz saw nine.

Even with local cases on the rise, Lincoln County currently stands out in the state as having the highest vaccination rate of any county. Out of its 48,260 total population, roughly 45 percent have been vaccinated, Pourtal reported.

Vaccines will also become available to everyone 16 and older next week, on April 19, though Pourtal noted it would be important for the county to maintain steady vaccination rates moving forward.

The health department’s current goal is to get the county to 70 percent vaccination, which would be the closest benchmark that could be considered a turning point. A vaccination rate of 95 percent would be necessary to confidently protect the population from the virus.

Moving forward, there will be a dip in supply for the vaccines, as use of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine in the U.S. has put on pause after reports Monday that the vaccine may be related to rare cases of blood clots in recipients. Supply was already disrupted, however, after an announcement last week that 68 million Johnson & Johnson were recalled due to potential contaminants.

The supply of the Moderna and Pfizer are still available, but the state is looking into reorganizing its supply to accommodate the potential shortfall left by the temporary removal of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

Pfizer can be administered to individuals 16 and older, while the Moderna is available for those 18 and older. As of Monday, the county was scheduled to receive 1,200 doses of Moderna and 400 doses of Pfizer.

Pourtal also went over some of the variants of COVID-19 that have begun to appear in Oregon, the largest being the California variant with 217 confirmed cases in the state and estimated to be about 20 percent more transmissible. While there is currently no major cause for alarm, the spread of variants of the virus has the potential to reduce the effectiveness of the vaccine and increase infection rates.

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