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Oregon health official shares concerns about Idaho's response to COVID-19

Posted at 5:45 PM, Sep 03, 2020
and last updated 2020-09-03 19:54:18-04

ONTARIO, OREGON — The Snake River divides Idaho and Oregon, but in this area, Ontario, Payette, and Fruitland are more like one community despite being in opposite states.

However, Oregon and Idaho have had different responses to COVID-19, creating an interesting dynamic in this region.

"There are more people who live in Idaho and work in Malheur County than people who live and work in Malheur County," said Sarah Poe of the Malheur County Health Department. "That really that makes us stronger, we are a shared community of people, events, and activities."

But the reaction to the coronavirus across the river in Payette County has Poe worried.

"Malheur is getting a lot of attention in Oregon, we are in the highest for the cumulative incident rate that just means the rate of cases among our populations is higher than anywhere in the state."

Malheur County has 30,000 people and 1,118 confirmed cases of COVID-19.
Across the border, in Payette County, there are 702 cases in a population area of 23,951.

Overall, Idaho has 6,000 more cases than Oregon despite having 40 percent less population.

"Southwest District Health and Central District Health have been doing a very good job and also have some of the same messaging," said Poe. "It's just they don't have the same statewide orders, and we really want Idaho to have a stronger position to protect the health and safety of the community."

Oregon Governor Kate Brown issued a mandatory statewide mask mandate, and Ontario has taken an additional step to limit gatherings during the pandemic.

On the other side of the border, Payette County started in-person school despite recommendations from Southwest District Health to do so, the Payette County Fair happened as scheduled in early August, and as far as masks, Idaho's Governor Brad Little left that decision up to local jurisdictions.

Poe would like to see stricter regulations in Payette County where she lives, Poe is one of the people that travel across the river to Ontario for work, but she would also like to see the people in this region adhere to Oregon's standards.

"We are just asking that anybody who comes into Malheur County follow those rules, and people who reside in Malheur County go to Idaho still maintain those practices."

Governor Brad Little also noted that it needs to go both ways for people to slow the spread of the virus, and he pointed out the correctional facility has also increased the numbers.

The Snake River Correctional Institution in Malheur County is the largest prison in Oregon, 289 inmates have tested positive for the virus and 110 staff members, but 70 percent of the staff at SRCI comes from Idaho.

Governor Little did tell us he has spoken with Oregon Governor Kate Brown.