Wasco County remains in the “extreme risk” category due to community spread of COVID-19, but a recent and significant drop in positive cases means the county will move down at least to the “high risk” category Friday, Feb. 26, and likely to the “moderate risk” category, according to the North Central Public Health District.

Wasco County has been in the “extreme risk” category since Gov. Kate Brown created the four-level risk framework in late November.

As a medium-sized county — those with 15,000 to 30,000 people — Wasco County is placed in a risk category based on its case count over a 14-day period. The “extreme risk” case count is 60 or more. Wasco County was as high as 175 in early December.

In the most recent 14-day count, covering Jan. 31 to Feb. 13, Wasco County had 53 cases. That was enough to drop it to “high risk” category, which is 45-59 cases over 14 days. (Moderate risk is 30 to 44 cases over 14 days.) However, risk category changes only happen every other week. Next week is a change week, new category changes will be announced Tuesday, Feb. 23, with the change taking effect Friday, Feb. 26.

Wasco County has recorded just 27 cases since Feb. 7, which is the beginning of the upcoming 14-day period ending Feb. 20.

Dropping from “extreme” to “high” category would allow in-person dining at 25 percent capacity; gyms to have 25 percent capacity; and in-person visits at long term care facilities. Dropping to the “moderate” risk category allows 50 percent in-person dining capacity; and 50 percent capacity at gyms. Churches can have 50 percent indoor capacity.

North Central Public Health District Health Officer Dr. Miriam McDonell said the drop in cases is a combination of several factors, including the end of the holiday case surge and an increasing county vaccination rate, which is now at 12 percent of the population.

McDonell also credited the public with following the extreme risk category guidance, and “the continued good work” of people to wash their hands, stay 6- feet apart and wear a mask. “There are some counties moving in the wrong direction. We need to continue what we are doing, taking precautions, so we can get to the next level.”

Vaccinations are key to ending the pandemic, she added. In the meantime, residents are asked to continue to wear a mask, stay 6-feet apart from those not in their household, avoid gatherings, wash hands frequently and stay home when sick.

McDonell told the Wasco County Commission Wednesday, Feb. 24, that ongoing testing was robust so declining case numbers were not the result of missed cases. “Case counts really are down.”

Volunteers at Mid-Columbia Senior Center are helping contact eligible seniors, and vaccine scheduling has become more predictable, despite delays due to winter storms nationwide.

She asked those who have received their vaccination to inform their personal care provider, which will reduce duplication of efforts and make it easier to track who has and who has not received the vaccine. “The data is in the state system, but not readily available,” she explained.

Having the Fort Dalles Readiness Center as a vaccine site has been a blessing, McDonell added, and as vaccinations continue to ramp up, daily clinics will be held at the site.