Vaccine vial

A Providence St. Mary Medical Center pharmacist prepares to mix a dose of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine.

New COVID-19 numbers in the Walla Walla area are still low, but case rates are ticking up on the west side of the state.

“That’s probably related to variants,” said Dr. Daniel Kaminsky, public health officer for Walla Walla County.

Although mutations of the COVID-19 virus haven’t yet been found here, they have been seen as close as Benton and Franklin counties, Kaminsky told county Commissioners on Monday, March 29.

Those variants in the coronavirus — such changes are normal behavior for a virus, experts say — can have higher infection and mortality rates, Kaminsky said.

Thus it is as important now as when COVID-19 first struck to take responsible health measures to keep case numbers and hospitalizations in the Walla Walla Valley at bay. That way businesses can stay open, and the county can head to Phase 4 of the state’s reopening plan sooner, he said.

Vaccination efforts here are going well, and on Saturday staff delivered about 300 shots per hour for five hours at a Walla Walla County Fairgrounds clinic. Although his department is seeing reduced demand for shots at this moment, the next tier of vaccination eligibility starts Wednesday and includes a number of age groups, Kaminsky said.

Washington’s “phase finder” online tool will cease to exist on Wednesday, meaning people will no longer have to provide proof of vaccine eligibility.

The Department of Community Health in Walla Walla will use the self-verification checkbox on its website as the only method determining who can get the vaccine. State officials said they are turning to more of an honor system and counting on people to wait their turn under the state’s vaccine distribution plan.

Another mass vaccination clinic is planned for 2-6 p.m., Saturday, April 3, at the fairgrounds.

The Walla Walla County Department of Community Health reported four cases of COVID-19 on Saturday, three cases on Sunday and 11 cases on Monday; no new deaths were reported on its website.

The county’s active case count was 26 residents, and none were hospitalized.

The county’s case total is 4,855 since March 1, 2020, including 59 deaths, local officials reported.

Washington state Department of Health is reporting 64 virus-related deaths in Walla Walla County.

County residents considered recovered from the coronavirus has reached 4,760. The test positivity rate is currently at 2.4%.

Umatilla County Public Health reported eight additional COVID-19 cases Monday and no new deaths.

Officials say at least 13,929 residents out of a population of 81,160 have been vaccinated against the disease. At 1716.2 people per 10,000, Umatilla County appears to be the least-vaccinated in Oregon, but that number does not reflect all vaccinations.

“Residents vaccinated in Washington at the VA and at Yellowhawk Tribal Center may not be captured in this. Those sites don’t report to the state databases,” said Alisha Southwick, deputy director of Umatilla County Public Health.

That’s also true of Oregon residents going to mass vaccination clinics in Washington or using farmworker clinics, she said.

The county’s COVID-19 case total is 7,858, which includes 82 deaths.

Umatilla County is currently in the ”high risk” category of Oregon’s four-stage COVID-19 risk level plan.

Columbia County Public Health reported no active COVID-19 cases Monday. Overall, 107 people have tested positive and recovered, according to the department. Washington state’s data, however, is showing there have been 117 cases in Columbia County.

Washington’s Department of Health reported 3,245,982 residents have been vaccinated as of March 27, with 32,915 of those doses administered in Walla Walla County and 2,257 in Columbia County.

Officials reported 640 new COVID-19 cases, and eight more virus-related deaths.

Those numbers bring the state’s totals to 362,386 cases and 5,226 deaths, meaning 1.4% of people diagnosed in Washington have died.

Oregon Health Authority reported 217 new confirmed and presumptive cases of COVID-19 on Monday bringing the state total to 164,164.

There were no new deaths, keeping the state’s death toll at 2,375.

The agency reported Monday that 18,191 new doses of COVID-19 vaccinations were recorded on the state’s immunization registry. Oregon has now administered a total of 872,230 first and second doses of Pfizer, 824,313 of first and second doses Moderna and 39,092 single doses of Johnson & Johnson vaccine formulas.

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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.