DAYTON — As COVID-19 cases rise in Dayton and the surrounding area, Columbia County Health System leaders are taking a step back for safety.

It was announced Tuesday, Aug. 31, that in-person visits to Booker Rest Home retirement center and Dayton General Hospital have been suspended until further notice.

Shane McGuire, chief executive officer for the organization, said the move is cautionary.

“A full 25% of the COVID-19 tests we are running are coming back positive, and these are just the folks that are aware and coming in for testing,” he said.

“Our mission is to continue protecting our community’s most vulnerable in the nursing home and in the health system.”

Columbia County had 35 active cases of the virus on Wednesday, Sept. 1, the highest single-day number in the pandemic, said Martha Lanman, public health director for the county.

“Just like Walla Walla has had a rise over the past month, and the same with the Tri-Cities, and that’s where we do a lot of our shopping, our socializing,” Lanman said.

“I think it’s just finally gotten to our community.”

A few things are at play, she said. One, the highly-predominant delta variant is eight times more contagious that the original SARS-CoV-2 strain. Two, a reopened society over the summer moved people in and out of Dayton with family visits, vacations and community activities.

“That’s what brings it into communities but that’s also part of life,” Lanman said.

Businesses in the area have been receptive to taking preventative measures like masking and the health department is expanding its vaccination capabilities by moving shot clinics to more space at 270 E. Main St.

Vaccinations can now be scheduled online at

Although Columbia County’s published vaccination rate of just over 32% has appeared to stay static, there has been an error in Washington state’s data reporting system and increases are not showing up yet, Lanman said.

“I’ve talked to the state and they are fixing it. So, magically, one day we’re going to look really good.”

Columbia County, with a population of 4,185 people, has reported a total of 239 cases and 23 COVID-19 related hospitalizations during the pandemic. There have been six deaths from the coronavirus.

Sheila Hagar can be reached at or 526-8322.

Sheila Hagar has written for the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin since 1998. Sheila covers health, social services and city government in Milton-Freewater, Athena and Weston in the Walla Walla Valley.

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