According to the New York Times Coronavirus Data Tracker, Benton County added just 23 cases of COVID-19 to the county-wide case count this past week. That’s the lowest weekly case addition in over eight months. Since March of 2020, Benton County has reported 3,215 cases of the virus.  

Statewide, Oregon reported between roughly 180 to 440 cases per day for a total of just over 2,000 cases last week. This is a decrease from the number of cases reported the week before, and continues the state’s promising trajectory of declining virus transmission rates. The U.S. reported just over 89,000 cases this past week, making it the seventh week of declining case rates in a row. Weekly case reports haven’t been this low in the nation since early spring of 2020.  

A New Variant of the Virus 

World health experts have their eyes on a new variant of COVID-19 that has infected people in Vietnam, which for the last year was known for its impressive avoidance of mass transmission of the virus with only a few thousand cases reported as late as April. Vietnam has now doubled its case rate. The new variant is thought to be a mutation of the Indian variant (B.1.617.2).  

Though it’s not been proven that it was the new mutation that resulted in the huge spike in cases in the country, it is suspected. The World Health Organization does not yet consider this variant one “of concern” as it does the UK and South African strains — both of which are responsible for thousands of transmissions in the U.S. WHO has yet to fully understand the new mutation.  

According to an article published in the Indian Express, the new mutation does not seem to make people more ill, however is more transmissible than many variants previously detected. It’s unclear how effective vaccines in current distribution are against this COVID mutation, and seeing as less than 1% of Vietnam’s population has been fully vaccinated, it will likely take time and research effort to understand and answer that question.  

Benton County is Safe, But What About Our Neighbors? 

Benton County is now considered “low risk” of COVID transmission, with the county’s testing positivity rate dropping to 2% and currently with almost 70% of our adult population vaccinated with at least one dose. This is great news for residents of Benton County. It means more businesses are open, restaurants, bars, and gyms are functioning at high capacities, and masks are becoming optional for fully vaccinated residents in select locations.  

But what if you travel out of the county? What if you visit your friends in Eugene, or go to the coast to escape the heat?  

There are five counties that directly or by a handful of miles border Benton County. Lincoln County, home to Newport and Lincoln City, is the only “low risk” category neighbor we currently have, with a test positivity rate of 1.5%, and almost 70% of its adult population vaccinated. Polk County to the north and Lane County to the south are both in the “moderate risk” categories. Marion County and Linn County to the northeast and east are both considered “high risk,” with testing positivity rates of 7.2% and 6.6%, respectively. 

The differences in transmission/risk categories between Benton and neighboring counties are likely explained by vaccination rates. Exactly mirroring risk categories are the rates of vaccinations within each. Benton and Lincoln Counties both have similar and high levels of vaccinated population, whereas Polk and Lane Counties have relatively moderate amounts of their populations vaccinated. Similarly, Marion and Linn Counties have the lowest amount of their adult populations vaccinated — 57% and 52%, respectively.  

It’s important to remember that these vaccination rates are only for adults aged 16-years and older, though we also know children are able to contract and transmit the virus. Keeping this in mind, there are higher percentages of each county’s population currently unvaccinated, as children make up roughly 25% of the national population.  

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