Wasco County dropped a level to “high risk” for COVID-19 due to a change in state guidelines, but infection numbers remain high and without a change in the state metrics, the county would still be in the “extreme risk” category, according to information provided by the North Central Public Health District (NCPHD). On a positive note, having spent one week in the extreme risk category, the county was awarded approximately $360,000 in emergency funding for businesses impacted by the mandatory closures, added county administrator Tyler Stone.

“Our numbers are still way too high right now,” noted Commissioner Scott Hege. “It’s important to know our numbers are still in the extreme category.”

According to NCPHD, there has been a slight drop in the uptick that began in April, but not because local numbers had significantly decreased. Stone, who presented the information to the board of commissioners, said, “Our numbers are still way to high right now. We need to get our numbers down into the law category, so we don’t have to look at going to extreme again.”

To date, Wasco County has had 1361 of COVID-19 and 28 related deaths; Sherman County has had 58 cases with 1 death; Gilliam County has had 57 cases and one death; and Hood River County has reported 1,172 cases and 30 related deaths.

Stone noted that COVID-19 vaccine rates are declining. “There are spots available in most clinics; this is troubling,” he said. “We are only about 40 percent vaccinated.”

With everyone eligible to receive the vaccine, and vaccine availability good, Stone noted, “now there are other factors keeping people from getting the vaccine, like working two jobs and not being able to get to the clinics,” he said. “We are trying to go now where people are. We are firing up the mobile vaccine bus, to meet people where they are. We will be doing vaccinations right there, in the bus.”

Stone noted that with the state doing weekly assessments to set risk levels, there was a potential the county could be moving between levels on a weekly basis, with metrics coming out on Monday, and new level becoming effective the following Friday. “We could be bouncing around, as our case loads bounce around.”

Commissioner Kathy Schwartz said there was hope on the horizon. “I think this is going to plateau. People need to get vaccinated, wear the mask, keep socially distancing.” We are not out of the woods yet, she added. She noted that many of those being hospitalized now are younger. “We are seeing younger people, 40, 50, 60 year olds, in the hospital. Things are changing, but people are still getting very sick from COVID-19.”

Stone noted that COVID-19 testing is still readily available throughout the region, and anyone experiencing symptoms should get tested.

To date, 10,854 people have been vaccinated in Wasco County, with 7,846 fully vaccinated and 3,008 in progress. Forty percent of the population in Wasco County has been vaccinated.

Commissioners then discussed how to best get additional state funds out to impacted businesses.

“I think getting it out there quickly is important,” said Hege. “I think we really need to identify those businesses most impacted, and do it in a way that doesn’t require the business to do a lot of work on it. I know there is a certain amount of bureaucracy, but simple and fast would be preferred.”

That sentiment was shared by the full board, Schwartz summarizing, “Get it out as quickly as possible, with the least number of restrictions, to the most impacted businesses.”

Stone said the county had worked with MCEDD (Mid-Columbia Economic Development District) in distributing previous COVID-10 emergency funds from the state, and would work to get the new money distributed as quickly as possible.