Fairgrounds Vaccine Clinic

Nikki Sharp takes temperatures at a mass vaccination clinic at the Walla Walla Fairgrounds Pavilion in January 2021.

Tuesday, Sept. 7, was noteworthy in COVID-19 news in Walla Walla and Umatilla counties.

In Walla Walla, Commissioners Jennifer Mayberry, Todd Kimball and Greg Tompkins approved a resolution encouraging people to talk to their healthcare provider to reach an independent but informed decision about getting safely and effectively vaccinated against COVID-19.

Rising case rates, hospitalizations and deaths associated with the delta variant of the coronavirus prompted the move, according to the resolution.

Vaccinations for COVID-19 became publicly available locally in the third week of January, and those efforts continue through community health partners and pharmacies. The vaccines are currently free to all.

Dr. Daniel Kaminsky, the county’s health officer and medical director, said he appreciates the support Mayberry, Kimball and Tompkins showed in recommending people reach a vaccination decision through discussion with their healthcare providers.

There’s no time to lose, according to Kaminsky’s presentation to the county commissioners Tuesday morning.

All of Washington state, like almost all of the United States, is seeing high transmission rates of COVID-19, the delta strain most of all. Across the country the rolling, seven-day, case-rate average increased by 4.9% from the week before, or 153,246 over 146,087.

From Aug. 25-31, a 1.7% decrease in hospitalization for the virus was seen, but as case rates continue upward, so will that number, Kaminsky said.

The current seven-day moving average of new deaths of COVID-19 victims is 3.7% higher nationally than it was the week before, but 13.8% lower than it was during a peak on July 31, 2020, and 71.3% lower than the peak observed on Jan. 13, before vaccination against the illness became widely accessible.

As of Sept. 1, 2021, a total of 641,725 people are reported to have died from the disease in the U.S.

At 739.86 cases per 100,000 people, Walla Walla County is 17th in the state for COVID-19 case rates and remains at 15th in the state for vaccination rates, he said.

It was disappointing, Kaminsky noted, that in five days of Walla Walla Fair & Frontier Days, just 48 people took advantage of the vaccine station there, part of the “very minimal” recent rise in the county’s vaccination rate.

Walla Walla County has 29,843 fully vaccinated residents, about 55% of the 53,946 people eligible to get vaccinated so far, Kaminsky told commissioners.

Of the county’s total population of 62,580, 47.7% of people are vaccinated, data shows.

Last week in 11 shot clinics in the county, just 284 vaccine doses were distributed.

The shots might not be free forever, but they are very accessible right now, he said, pointing out vaccines and masking can change the pandemic math: more vaccinations equals fewer cases equals fewer hospitalizations equals fewer intensive care admissions equals fewer people who need ventilators equals fewer deaths.

At Providence St. Mary Medical Center, 17 of 19 patients with the disease are unvaccinated, including the four COVID-19 patients in intensive care.

For local vaccination information, go to ubne.ws/wallavax.

Umatilla County reported that a 31-year-old woman with additional health issues died from COVID-19 on Friday, Sept. 3, after testing positive for it on Aug. 25. She died at a private home, officials said, making this the county’s 118th death in the pandemic.

County Commissioner George Murdock said 59.6% of the residents eligible to be vaccinated have received one dose of the vaccine and 51.6% of the eligible population is fully vaccinated, according to federal data.

Murdock also said a presentation from Oregon Association of Hospitals and Health Systems showed it will be two to four weeks before state hospital capacity — the lowest per capita in the country — is at a manageable level.

As of Friday, Sept. 3, there were 11 open beds in all of Oregon for those needing intensive care, Murdock said.

By Tuesday, there were 57 out of 641 total ICU beds, and 409 out of 4,317 regular hospital beds available in the state, according to Oregon Health Authority.

Gov. Kate Brown said on Tuesday she will not be following her tradition of coming for Pendleton Round-Up, citing community spread as a concern.

The event begins with a parade on Saturday, Sept. 11, and ends Sept. 18.

Brown said she is encouraging those who do attend to be vaccinated ahead of time and to wear a mask.

“To everyone else I say, ‘Let ‘er buck.’”

Numbers for Walla Walla County, Sept. 7:

  • 68,845 vaccine doses given, up by 4,512 since Aug. 30.
  • 138 new cases of COVID-19 since Friday, Sept. 3; 508 active cases, 19 people hospitalized, of which 15 are Walla Walla County residents.
  • Total COVID-19 cases rose by 311 over the last week, now standing at 7,471.
  • The death toll is 77 people, according to local officials, while state officials report 79 related deaths.

Numbers for Umatilla County, Sept. 7:

  • 32,232 people are vaccinated, up by 804 from the previous week.
  • 90 new cases since reporting on Friday; 11,884 total, up by 409 from the previous week.
  • 622 active cases.
  • The death toll is at 118 people.

Numbers for Columbia County, Sept. 7:

  • 3,438 vaccine doses given, up by 77 from last week.
  • 33 active cases; 264 cases of COVID-19 have been reported and 28 residents have been hospitalized.
  • The death toll remains at six people.

Information for Columbia County is from Washington State Department of Health.

Washington State Department of Health:

  • 586,751 total cases.
  • 6,745 deaths total.

Oregon Health Authority:

  • 289,649 total cases.
  • 3,326 deaths total.

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.

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