Jefferson County leaders want to resume, but need more COVID-19 vaccination
The COVID-19 “Extreme Risk” status puts pressure on Jefferson County from both sides. On Wednesday, February 3, citizens and businesses urged the county commissioner to give a “sanctuary” from the restrictions of closing restaurants and gyms to indoor services.
“For me, this is an emergency to start my business,” said Lynnelle Morgan, owner of Over the Edge Taphouse on the Crooked River Ranch.
“Why are you held hostage?” Said Scott Stuart, a spokesman for a group called We The People. “4 million Oregons are being held hostage to wear masks, reduce social distance and blockade our business.”
Nevertheless, despite extreme risk conditions, the Oregon Department of Health (OHA) cut off the county’s vaccine supply and diverted the dose to a populous county that had not reached the vaccine priority list.
“How do you get over this?” Says Jefferson County Commissioner Kelly Simelink. “Our people are just as important as others.”
The county’s director of public health, Michael Baker, said all doses in the county’s hands would be discussed and gone on Friday, February 12. Public health has a 36-page waiting list for people who want a vaccine. OHA will only provide a second dose to those who have started the vaccine series.
“We have moved ahead of the Governor’s guidelines. We are confident that freezer vaccines are useless vaccines,” says Baker.
According to the OHA timeline, the county did not start vaccination of people over the age of 80 until this week.
Public health began vaccination of people over the age of 80 last week as educator demand for vaccines was lower than expected in Jefferson County. People over the age of 75 in Jefferson, Crook, and Deschutes County were vaccinated at a clinic held at the Deschutes County Fair and Expo Center.
On Friday, February 5, the Central Oregon Public Health Service reported that 573 people were fully vaccinated and an additional 1,879 were first vaccinated in Jefferson County. Together, it accounts for over 10% of the population.
“We belong to an extreme category,” says County Commissioner Wayne Fording. “All of these shout out that they need a vaccine.”
Jefferson County is the fourth worst ranked Oregon in terms of case rate, with 7,499 per 100,000. This is twice the infection rate of the populous Multnomah County.
In a letter to OHA director Patrick Allen, the commissioners asserted their claim for more vaccines. The letter said that the death in Jefferson County, 25, was “disproportionately affected by the Oregon COVID-19 Vaccine Advisory Board and by the very population identified as requiring state prioritization. It was experienced. ” (See the entire letter on the Pioneer editorial page.)
Of the 25 deaths, 19 are not from Oregon, but from the Warm Springs Union tribe, which is vaccinated by Indian Health Services.
Commissioners are lobbying for more vaccines as the pandemic is hitting Jefferson County, but practitioners are downplaying the disease.
“This is a pandemic. It’s a false fear that the virus is more deadly than the common flu,” Stuart said.
Stuart calls COVID an illness in the elderly. “The average age of people who die of COVID is 75. Life expectancy is 78. For people with comorbidities, it’s an elderly illness.”
About 12 Stuart supporters stood side by side around the room without masks. Jefferson was united behind the idea that he should be a sanctuary county.
“If I weren’t here (on the commissioner’s platform), I would have been sitting there with you,” Fording said. Fording owns the business and sympathizes with those who lost money during the closure.
The commissioner has already petitioned Governor Kate Brown to relax the restrictions and allow the company to open, while following the guidelines of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Chairman Simmelink says he and his colleagues need investigation before they can entertain the idea of becoming a sanctuary county.
As the county and state-wide case numbers begin to decline, the numbers can fall below extreme risk thresholds and business restrictions are relaxed without intervention.
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