Vaccines-and-variants

Susan Trachsel

LINCOLN COUNTY — For the first time in two months, Lincoln County’s COVID-19 case rate fell during the previous two-week period.

The county will remain in the high risk category for the time being, and might even be on a trend toward reduced restrictions, Lincoln County Public Health’s Susan Trachsel told the Lincoln County Board of Commissioners during its regular meeting Monday.

The public information officer, filling in for Deputy Director Florence Pourtal, said that although there have been 119 cases in April, the previous two-week period saw a reduction in new cases, from 151.3 per 100,00 residents to 128.5. “This is really good news,” Trachsel said. “We’re even getting closer to the moderate level … other counties in the state are not so lucky.”

Trachsel said the state exceeded hospitalization metrics that triggered extreme risk classification for counties with sufficient new cases — the peak number of COVID-19 patients hospitalized statewide during the previous week was 319, and there was a 37.4 percent increase in hospitalizations during the previous seven days. Fifteen counties with 200 or more new cases per 100,000 residents will move to extreme risk this Friday, April 30.

Trachsel said COVID-19 variants were thought to be partially behind the recent statewide increase in infections. Of particular recent concern was the B.1.1.7 variant, which is 50 percent more transmissible and likely more severe, especially among younger people. The number of those cases in the state almost doubled during the past week, Trachsel said, to 112, and there’s been a 25 percent increase in cases within Lincoln County’s health region.

Trachsel said increased transmissibility was especially concerning when paired with laxity in precautions, because minor slips were more likely to lead to infection. She said spring break was also thought to have contributed to the March-April rise in cases.

Vaccinate rates drop, county seeking locations for “pop-up” clinics

Lincoln County still leads most Oregon counties in the percentage of its residents who have received a COVID-19 vaccination, largely due to its early mass efforts. It dropped one slot this week, losing first place to neighboring Benton County.

“This is good news, that a county right next to us is also doing so well with vaccinations,” Trachsel said. Just more than half of the county’s total population has received a shot, and just less than 60 percent of residents age 16 and older, the eligible population.

Trachsel told commissioners, ”We are seeing a slowdown, though, in our vaccination rates.”

She said only 17 people signed up for the Tuesday clinic at the Taft fire station, prompting its cancellation, and Pacific West Ambulance would no longer hold clinics at the community center in Waldport.

Trachsel said the department thought this indicated that all of the people willing to travel anywhere to get the vaccine have been reached, and the department needed to take a more targeted approach. To that end, it has begun outreach to cities, agencies, organizations and businesses to identify groups of people who still want a shot and then schedule clinics at times and locations convenient to them.

Anyone interested is asked to fill out this form: tinyurl.com/VaxUpLincolnOutreachClinics.

In her presentation to commissioners, Trachsel noted the enormous volunteer contribution to the vaccination effort. A total of 394 people have volunteered at least one shift. And among just three of the county’s clinic locations, an estimated 6,514 hours were donated between Jan. 20 and April 22.

“There’s no way we could be where we’re at without the hard work of these people,” Trachsel said.

She also gave commissioners an update on the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, whose use was paused over concerns about blood clots. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended resuming administration with a warning label, and Oregon health officials followed suit Monday.

Fifteen cases of thrombosis thrombocytopenia syndrome are confirmed out of eight million people who received the vaccine. All cases were in women, 13 of whom were between 18 and 49 years old (a man in the clinical trial also developed the syndrome). Three people died, including a woman in Oregon.

Trachsel said the risk was minute and seemed outweighed by the benefits, but still sufficient that recipients should be informed.

The public information officer also noted a change in quarantine recommendations considering the advent of vaccines. She said the Oregon Health Authority now recommends a 14-day quarantine for all unvaccinated close contacts of a positive case. Fully vaccinated people don’t need to quarantine after exposure unless they have symptoms.

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