Benton County added 60 new cases of COVID-19 to the county-wide case total this week, according to the New York Times Coronavirus Data Tracker. This brings Benton County’s case total up to 2,603 reported cases since the start of the pandemic in 2020.  

Today, Oregon is starting to allow vaccination of Group 7 under Phase 1B of the state’s vaccination plan. This opens up eligibility to numerous groups of people, including frontline workers as defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, anyone 16 years of age or older who lives in a home with multiple generations, and any adults 16 to 44 years old with at least one underlying health condition. To view more details about the new eligibility criteria, you can visit the Oregon Health Authority vaccination schedule online.  

Oregon’s daily COVID case reports increased this week from approximately 300 to 500 cases last week, to between roughly 400 to 520 each day this week. This brings the state’s case count up to 166,013 since the start of the pandemic.The U.S. case reports are similarly increasing, and the country added almost 500,000 new cases this week to the nation’s total case count.  

Vaccination Updates 

Oregon has vaccinated over 1.25 million residents since vaccine was available to the state in December, and of those 1.25 million, roughly 60% are fully vaccinated. This is promising, as vaccinations continue to increase over time and the state is opening up wider eligibility criteria. You can visit the Oregon COVID vaccine website to see if you are eligible.  

However, health officials are beginning to worry over the uneven distributions of vaccines by the federal government. According to an article published this week in the Oregonian, Oregon has been receiving less vaccines per capita than numerous other states. Based on calculations by the Oregon Health Authority, this means hundreds of thousands fewer Oregonians have been vaccinated than if the state received equal vaccine allocations per capita compared to states like California, Wyoming, and Kansas.   

This is a big concern, considering that while Oregon has fully vaccinated roughly 18% of the state’s population, that is far from the recommended amount to reach herd immunity which the World Heath Organization suspects may need to be 80 to 95% of the population. Oregon health officials and Governor Kate Brown have been in communication with President Biden’s COVID Taskforce, but explanations for this discrepancy and/or plans for remedying it have not been announced. 

Virus Research at OSU  

New research in the Biochemistry and Biophysics Department at Oregon State University is leading to promising new ideas for future vaccines for COVID-19 and other deadly viruses. Researchers have been studying the COVID RNA, and specifically its nucleocapsid protein (N protein), as this acts as a capsule of the virus’s RNA. The RNA is important because it allows the virus to replicate in the host body and replicate itself, and the N protein is the protector of this vital component.  

Recent findings at OSU have advanced virologists understanding of the N protein, and it has been discovered that in contrast to the virus itself, this protein evolves and mutates relatively slowly. This has excited researchers, as it is thought that vaccines that target the functioning of this protein may be more effective in halting its ability to transmit from person to person.   

A Potential Fourth Wave  

Warnings of a fourth surge of COVID infections in the country have come from multiple top-ranking officials this week including the President, the Director of the CDC, and the governor’s office 

Reported cases are increasing both across the country and throughout Oregon this week, which is partly being linked to Spring Break, and officials are concerned about future impacts of holiday gatherings over the Easter weekend. 

Locally, the OSU-led Corvallis Wastewater Project, which tracks COVID RNA prevalence throughout the city’s sewer system, has continued to detect higher levels of the virus sheddings throughout Corvallis. Of the half-dozen regions the project has monitored since the summer of 2020, five of these areas are experiencing major surges in RNA prevalence in wastewater samples, rivaling levels measured back in January during the largest spike in virus cases so far. 

During a press conference on Friday, Gov. Brown warned Oregonians, “don’t let the vaccines and the sunny spring weather give us a false sense that we’re in the clear, because we’re not.”  

Despite increases in vaccinations, Oregon’s case count rose almost 30% by the end of March. While vaccine eligibility is opening up to more residents, it is important to remember to keep social gatherings outdoors in the spring sunshine where the risk of virus transmission is lower.  

This is a weekly column updating the residents of Benton County on local, national, and international news on the pandemic. If you would like to make suggestions of topics to cover related to the virus, please email any resources or thoughts to covidupdate@corvallisadvocate.com.    

By: Lauren Zatkos