Vaccine clinic

Michele Jausoro, with furry friend Paully Pocket, gets her vaccine from nursing student Katelyn Youngberg on Thursday, April 15, 2021, at the first vaccine clinic at the Walla Walla County Fairground where anyone over the age of 16 was eligible.

Umatilla County commissioners said Monday, May 3, they are in wait-and-see mode regarding Gov. Kate Brown’s recent statement.

On Thursday, April 29, Brown again extended her declaration of a state of emergency for COVID-19 for 60 more days, until June 28. She also said she plans to lift all related restrictions by the end of next month.

Oregon is in the middle of the fourth surge of COVID-19, driven by more contagious variants of the disease, she said on the same day 15 counties moved to the state’s “extreme risk” category with nine more in “high risk,” including Umatilla County.

There are four risk levels in the state’s COVID-19 safety plan.

New cases are mainly coming from people who have not yet been vaccinated, she added.

Brown also said that with more Oregonians getting vaccinated against the disease, the forecast calls for a few more weeks of restrictions but the end is in sight.

“I intend to fully reopen our economy by the end of June, and the day is approaching when my emergency orders can eventually be lifted,” the governor said. “Today, I am lifting Oregon’s executive order for price gouging related to the pandemic, because the days of hand sanitizer and, yes, toilet paper scarcity are far behind us. In the weeks to come, as the number of fully vaccinated Oregonians continues to grow, we will be able to lift the emergency orders and state regulations that have kept us safe for the past year.”

If Brown’s words stick, that means there is nothing preventing events like Pendleton Whisky Music Fest, with attendance reaching as high as 20,000 people, said Umatilla County public health director Joseph Fiumara.

That said, it would be a “huge financial risk” at this point to festival organizers, commission chair George Murdock said, noting Brown has been known to change her mind.

Whisky Fest organizers said they need more time to announce plan updates.

Public health officer D. Jonathan Hitzman pointed out California Gov. Gavin Newsom is planning to lift all pandemic restrictions in that state on June 15 and that the three Western states governors often act in accordance.

Although Oregon is leading the nation in rising case rates, Umatilla County is not leading the state, Hitzman added.

Fiumara agreed, noting case numbers from last week are similar to the week before.

In the last two weeks there were 120 cases of people with the coronavirus, one affiliated with a state prison in the county, keeping Umatilla County in the high risk designation, he told commissioners.

“The good news is, we’re not flirting with extreme risk,” Fiumara said.

Walla Walla County is in a similar circumstance, health officials told commissioners.

Public health officer Dr. Daniel Kaminsky said although the past two weeks have brought increased case rates and hospitalization spikes, his department is starting to see a bit of a plateau in those.

Although the county has exceeded hospitalization numbers for Phase 3 of the “Healthy Washington: Roadmap to Recovery” plan, it is still meeting the metric for case rates.

“But you have to fail both to move back a phase,” Kaminsky said. “We’re safe for this round.”

There is “buzz” that Washington’s top health officials are going to be reconsidering the state’s phase metrics, he said, adding that he suspects there might be some loosening of those.

In the meantime, more local vaccination events are planned.

Commissioner Todd Kimball expressed approval.

“I think shots in arms are the best way to keep things in our county open,” he said.

Booster shot clinics at the Walla Walla County Fairgrounds should end by mid-May, and all vaccinations will move to the Providence Southgate Medical Park then, Kaminsky said.

Two first-dose vaccine clinics are planned for next week at Southgate, 1025 S. Second Ave: May 11 and 13, 3-5 p.m.

There will be approximately 100 Pfizer vaccine appointments available for each clinic. Walk-in appointments are welcome.

Those arriving for a vaccine should use the main entrance of the building and are asked to not use the urgent care entrance of the facility.

Appointments are live now and all residents age 16 and over can begin scheduling. People younger than 18 years old must have written parental consent or bring a parent or guardian with them.

Umatilla County remains at the bottom of county vaccination rates in the state with just 20% of its population fully vaccinated. The health department will have a drive-thru vaccination clinic Thursday, May 6, beginning at 8 a.m., at Milton Adventist Church, 1244 N. Elizabeth Street. Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccine formulas will be available.

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Sheila Hagar can be reached at sheilahagar@wwub.com 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.