Rising COVID-19 numbers cause concern in county

Scott Swanson

As COVID-19 numbers escalate across the state and in Linn County with the arrival of the Delta Variant and local hospitals fill up, health officials are encouraging reluctant residents to rethink their stances on vaccines.

Over the past three weeks the Oregon Health Authority has reported some 30,000 new cases of COVID-19 infection – numbers for the past weekend were not available at press time.

The most recent figures by zip code showed that Sweet Home has experienced a total of 612 COVID cases, for a population of 13,567, which calculates to 4,510.9 cases per 100,000 people, or approximately one case per every 22.2 people.

Lebanon has recorded 1,697 cases, since the start of the pandemic, in a total population of 28613, which works out to 5,930.9 per 100,000 or approximately one case per every 16.9 people.

Linn County as a whole had recorded 11,920 positive tests as of Sunday, according to the OHA.

“We’re just concerned, period,” said Todd Noble, Linn County Public Health director. “We definitely do have concerns because Delta is far more contagious and, quite frankly, if it didn’t exist, I think we’d be in a very good, strong position.”

Marty Cahill, CEO of Samaritan Lebanon Community Hospital, said Monday, “If we want to keep the community and businesses open, we need to stop the spread of COVID-19.

“Getting vaccinated is one of the best ways to help protect yourself and others and move forward from this pandemic.

“Thank you to everyone who has gotten vaccinated. We can’t fight COVID-19 alone and we appreciate those who have done their part by getting the vaccine.”

Noble likened the new variant to chicken pox in how contagious it is.

“That’s why we have large daily numbers.”

Samaritan spokesperson Erin Crain said the number of COVID patients in the Samaritan system Monday represented “an all-time high.”

They included 18 at Good Samaritan Regional Medical Center in Corvallis, 10 at Samaritan Lebanon Community Hospital and five at Samaritan Albany General Hospital.

The Lebanon hospital, she said, has 25 beds, including the labor and delivery wing.

“There are currently 21 patients,” she said. “All ICU, CCU and sick beds are full.”

Wait times at Lebanon’s Emergency Department were one to four hours on Monday, she said, cautioning that “these numbers are volatile and can change by the hour.”

Crain said Samaritan went on divert once last week, “though our (Emergency Department) is always open to drive-up for walk-in.”

She said Samaritan has had to transfer patients out of state and by Life Flight “every day” because hospitals are full.

Noble said, “Those are some of the highest numbers we’ve seen throughout the pandemic. Basically, our ICUs, locally, are full – beyond full, actually.”

COVID has taken a toll on medical community staffing as well, he said.

“It’s been brutal. I know they’re having a hard time filling positions because it’s been very challenging. That affects the whole healthcare system.”

Said Crain: “Staff are very dedicated, but also very tired. It’s been a long 18 months of trying to manage a pandemic.”

Noble said he’s concerned about what’s going to happen in east Linn County in particular, where vaccination rates are significantly lower than they are to the west and elsewhere in the state.

Crain said 95 percent of Samaritan’s patients on Monday were unvaccinated.

Noble said that is the “No. 1” problem during the current wave of infections.

“We’re seeing breakthrough cases (where vaccinated individuals come down with the virus), but in most cases those people are not having severe issues. It’s the people who are not vaccinated. That’s what’s driving the bus.

“We are at 59.1 percent of folks 18 and above in Linn County who have had vaccinations. Frankly, not until we get to an 80 percent vaccination rate is where we can expect herd immunity. The good news is that getting a vaccination is the way out of this nightmare pandemic.”

Noble asserted that vaccinations have been “very safe and effective,” noting that their aim isn’t to necessarily provide total immunity from a disease, but to lessen its effects and prevent death.

“I think there’s some misunderstanding with these breakthrough cases, which are very low, percentage-wise.”

He said the vaccines have been “very effective” in fulfilling their purpose.

“Frankly, if Delta hadn’t come along, I thing we’d be far toward ending all this.”

Since the county vaccination clinic shut down in June at the Linn County Fair and Expo Center, the county has been running mobile clinics on almost a daily basis, he said.

“We’re basically trying to encourage people to consider it if they haven’t done it,” Noble said.

Nearly every commercial pharmacy in the county offers free vaccinations, so they are not hard to come by, he said.

“This is the way we end quarantines, the way we keep kids in school, the way we keep hospitals functioning,” he said. “This is the way we get past these last 18 months.

“I think it’s pretty universal. All of us want to close the page on this event in our history. There’s a way to do that.”