In the course of the pandemic, roughly10% of Wasco County residents have contracted COVID, 2,685 people have been infected, and 39 have died, according to Health Officer Dr. Mimi McDonell of North Central Public Health District (NCPHD), speaking before the Wasco County Board of Commissioners Oct. 6. In Sherman County, 143 residents (7.3%) have contracted the disease, and three have died. Gilliam county has recorded 144 cases (7.3%) and four have died.

The August surge, driven by the delta variant, saw the highest cases reported to date in Wasco County, with September seeing the second highest case count. Sherman and Gilliam counties saw a similar increase over the summer, while Hood River had about half the number of summer cases.

Wasco County saw its second highest weekly case count the last week of September, with 156 cases. “That is pretty disappointing in some ways, but not surprising,” she said, noting the increase is largely driven by the greater ability of the delta variant to spread quickly.

Compared mathematically based on cases per 100,000 residents, Wasco County reported 571.5 cases per 100,000; Sherman 390, Gilliam 201 and Hood River 331.5. All were higher than the state average of 244.2 cases per 100,000.

On a positive note, McDonell noted daily cases of COVID-19 are decreasing throughout the state and across the U.S. “This is what we want to see,” she said. Hospitalizations are also decreasing, as are the number of COVID-19 patients in Intensive Care Unit beds and on ventilators. “It does seem this end of summer surge is abating, and that is happening across the state,” she said.

In region 6, which is Mid-Columbia Medical Center in The Dalles and Providence Hood River Memorial Hospital in Hood River, are seeming a similar decline in hospitalizations. “They have been taking care of an awful lot of COVID patients, not just from the region but from Washington and many other counties,” McDonell told the board. “They are just doing a tremendous amount of work, caring for COVID patients.”

The number of people getting vaccinated has continued throughout the region. In Oregon, 75.5% of residents over 18 are now vaccinated. In Wasco County that number is 68.4%, Hood River County 80.3%, Sherman County 63.6% and Gilliam County, 46.4%.

For those not yet vaccinated, the North Central Public Health District is again providing vaccination clinics at the Fort Dalles Readiness Center in The Dalles. All three vaccine types are available at the clinics, which are on Thursdays, 3-6 p.m. Online booking is available at ncphd.org/covid-vaccines, or by calling 541-506-2600.Walk-ins are welcome.

Additional clinics are being held at schools and other sites in all three counties served by the district.

Pacific Islander Vaccination Event

On Saturday, Oct. 16, a Pacific Islander COVID-19 drive-in vaccination event will be held from 1-4 p.m. at First United Methodist Church parking area, 305 E. 11th (across from The Dalles High School.) No insurance or identification is needed to participate. A hot lunch will be provided by Lilo’s Hawaiian Barbecue. Gift cards of $50 (two dose vaccines) or $100 (single dose J&J) will be offered as well.

The Samoa Pacific Development Corporation and Utopia PDX are working with NCHD to provide the event. “These are incredible organizations, we are happy to be working with them,” McDonell said.

Pfizer booster shots for those who qualify will also be available. Criteria includes those 65 and older; those who are immunocompromised; long term care and congregate setting residents; those 50-64 years of age at high risk; and essential workers.

Booster criteria and vaccine types are anticipated to expand in October.

Commissioner Kathy Schwartz noted the county continues to trail behind the state average in vaccinations, and above the state average in infections. “The daily count is still pretty high, so we need to continue taking precautions,” she said.

Although contact tracing continues, McDonell noted health districts are relying increasingly on individuals who have tested positive to reach out to their close contacts. “Health departments are just really overwhelmed,” she explained.

She noted that if you are diagnosed with COVID, and you were sitting next to someone at an event, you should tell them they were a close contact. If you are a close contact of someone with COVID, be conscious of symptoms and if you developed any, get tested.

Everyone needs to remain on guard. “Just be really conscientious, wear a mask and keep your distance,” she said.