ONTARIO, Oregon — COVID-19 testing and vaccine events are planned for the next four weeks on Tuesdays at the Malheur County Fairgrounds. Health staff say many cars lined up so drivers could get tested.
"Honestly, I didn’t expect for it to be busy as it was. We were expecting 30, maybe 40 people. On approximate number, I say we pushed over 250 people through here and I think we got a little over 10 percent came out as positive," said Jose Felix, a Public Health Emergency Preparedness Coordinator.
Health experts say the county has seen a concerning uptick in COVID-19 cases.
“Over the last six weeks, we've gone from 17 cases in a week to last week, we had 154," said Sarah Poe, Director for the Malheur County Health Department. "What’s more alarming to me, it's the test positivity rate which is up to 18.6 percent, ideally that’s below 5%. When it is that high, we know we aren’t catching all cases that are out there. It's more likely community spread. This is a dramatic rise for us and likely to get much worse.”
People can get free, rapid COVID-19 testing and Moderna, Pfizer or Johnson & Johnson vaccines from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Fairgrounds. The Malheur County Health Department will also be giving out $25 gift cards with each vaccine dose.
"It’s a really good turnout compare to what we expecting. It’s been a little difficult getting people to get vaccinated. We came through with 43 and I know that’s something to be proud of," Felix said.
There are drive-through and walk-up options available and anyone will be tested, regardless of symptoms or exposure.
The health department says COVID-19 case counts and test positivity are alarmingly high. Health officials are hearing from local healthcare providers that they are seeing a lot of sick patients and people needing testing. As of August 30th, the county has seen 4,078 total cases and 66 total deaths.
Malheur County has low vaccination rates compared to other counties in Oregon.
“We did reach just over 40% this weekend of our 18 plus population. That’s significantly less than than the average in Idaho and significantly less than every other county in Oregon, except Lake County is below us. That’s far from herd immunity and the number of people we need to be vaccinated to prevent more severe illness and outbreaks," Poe said.
No insurance or other documentation is needed to get a test or vaccine. Idaho and Oregon residents are welcome to come to the fairgrounds and get tested or a dose of a vaccine.