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Polk County will return to extreme risk on Friday, but health officials believe the fourth surge will be shorter because people are getting vaccinated. 

Itemizer-Observer

DALLAS — Polk County was delivered the bad news this week that it, along with 13 other counties statewide, will be moving back up into the extreme risk category as the number of COVID-19 cases continue to spike.

Polk County Public Health Officer Jacqui Umstead shared the numbers with the County Commissioners Tuesday — a 7% test positivity rate and a case rate of 215.8 per 100,000. She added the state metric was triggered with more than 300 hospitalizations and more than 15% increase in the seven-day average over the past week. This week, statewide hospitalizations rose to 319 with a percent change of 37.4.

“Gov. (Kate) Brown last week said that this week would be a movement week instead of a warning week,” Umstead said. “It looks like we will be moving to extreme risk starting this Friday.”

Mike Ainsworth expressed his dismay with the new numbers, saying he was speechless.

“I just can’t believe it. I know everybody’s getting shots, but numbers keep going up. I’m dumbfounded by the fact that we’re going to extreme and all the businesses, especially all the restaurants that have opened up are now going to shut down and only have take out,” Ainsworth said.

In addition to restaurants, other businesses, such as gyms and theaters, allowed to operate at limited capacity, will now have to close. On the other hand, school officials don’t plan to make any changes to current attendance policies.

“We don’t see a move to extreme risk changing our current educational hybrid models,” said Central School District spokesperson Emily Mentzer. “Our schools are safe, with staff and students following all of our safety protocols.”

However, Mentzer said the move to extreme risk will affect attendance at sporting events, in accordance with OHA guidance for indoor and outdoor events.

“We hope that Polk County will be able to lower its case rates by graduation, June 5, as we are planning what that event will look like at each county risk level,” Mentzer added.

Umstead agreed the numbers are discouraging.

“One good thing is the vaccine. We are getting more people vaccinated every single day. And that is what is going to help us in the end, people following the rules,” Umstead said. “The majority of people getting COVID are unvaccinated. If we could get them the vaccine, we’d be in a much better place."

The predictions from OHA and from the governor’s office indicate that this will be a much shorter spike than what we saw in the winter because of the vaccine,” she added. “Because we have some variants in the state that are up to 50 percent more transmissible, that’s also part of our problem as well.”

Commissioner Craig Pope, who serves as the point person for the county’s public health, confirmed that the governor’s office as of Tuesday will re-evaluate counties week-by-week, rather than in two-week increments.

In addition, OHA has reduced the only quarantine option for those with COVID to 14 days, removing the 10-day and 7-day options with a confirmed negative test. Polk County’s total case count is now at 3,552 with eight current hospitalizations.

By comparison, Marion county has a case count of 20,876 with 46 current hospitalizations. Between April 11-24, Polk County had 179 cases of the coronavirus, with 35 in West Salem, 30 in Dallas and 10 each in Independence and Monmouth.

The highest rates of infection remain among 20- to 29-year-olds at 34 followed by 32 cases in those under 19 and 31 in both 30-39 and 50-59 ages categories.

“I’m encouraged by the fact that the more senior members of our county their numbers are down low. They have been the most vulnerable with underlying conditions in the past,” Ainsworth said.

The commissioners, as a show a support, signed on to a letter to Gov. Brown from the Association of Oregon Counties pushing back on the extreme risk category for restaurant-type businesses.

“The time has come to allow our communities to move forward while embracing continued health and safety precautions,” the letter read. “Our people understand the risks associated with COVID and our businesses have proven their ability to adhere to the highest expectations in safety, sanitation and air quality. It is no coincidence that Oregon has not seen one instance of a super spreader event tied to our hospitality industry."

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