▶️ Central Oregon lags in COVID recovery; local behaviors to blame

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St. Charles health officials say our local COVID-19 cases are creeping down at a “painfully slow” pace compared to the rest of the state.

“So we have averaged, over the past three full months,” Dr. Mike Johnson, St. Charles senior data scientist said. “149 positive cases every day.”

Oregon has seen a slow decline in COVID cases since a major peak in September, but that trend is not proving significant enough at the local level.

“We definitely are on the downside of the absolute peak,” Johnson said. “But we are still 1.5 times as high as we’ve ever been in a previous surge.”

Johnson says Central Oregon makes up about 8% of the state’s population, yet the hospital is caring for 18% of Oregon’s COVID patients.

“My modeling does not show that we can actually recreate a surge as big as the one that we just experienced,” Johnson said. “But it’s not out of the question to see some more bumps.”

Johnson says multiple variables are to blame for Central Oregon’s minimal progress.

“With the increased rate of transmissibility of the delta variant and the very very relatively low vaccination rates for virtually every county east of the Cascades except Deschutes, the delta variant is just having its way,” Johnson said.

“Another thing that adds to it is we have generally an older population, and if you’re unvaccinated and older it’s kind of like a double whammy.”

As of Monday afternoon, St. Charles has 66 COVID patients; six of whom are in the intensive care unit and three of whom are on ventilators.

Johnson does not expect the hospital to go below 30 COVID patients in November, especially if local behaviors do not change.

Lack of masks and those who choose to remain unvaccinated seem to be the most significant behaviors.

“We’re becoming more and more cavalier,” Johnson said. “In a matter of two weeks, the vaccinated proportion increases by about 0.01%. It’s completely stagnant right now.”

Johnson is, however, optimistic that the COVID-19 booster shot will work in our community’s favor.

“If we have a good percentage of people that, when they’re eligible, get the booster and keep their immune system prepared for the virus,” Johnson said. “It could have a huge impact.”

You can find the latest local and state COVID-19 numbers through the Oregon Health Authority here.

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