As of the end of last week, Benton County’s COVID case rate rose to 2,240, an increase of 85 confirmed cases from the previous week. The average number of new cases each day over the past two weeks has decreased approximately 50% compared to the caseload of the previous two weeks, from 19.1 new cases per day to 10.2 new cases per day.
The state of Oregon added an additional 2,770 cases to the statewide total, bringing Oregon’s total caseload up to 155,597 and the total death toll to-date to almost 2,230.
Feb. 28 marked the one-year anniversary of the first confirmed COVID case in Oregon, and political and health officials took a pause to acknowledge both the tragic deaths and the momentous effort put in by health care workers throughout the pandemic.
Case rates are still declining in the state, which is a welcome sign of transmission slow-down and offers a glimmer of hope that counties may soon lower case rates to levels acceptable and safe for schools and businesses to re-open.
However, in an open letter to the public commemorating the one-year anniversary of COVID in the state, Oregon Health Authority Director Patrick Allen reminded citizens to continue their vigilance, pointing out that new and dangerous variants of the virus have the potential to derail our recent beat down of transmission rates.
Starting today under the state’s COVID vaccine distribution plan, Group 5 (people aged 65+) are eligible to receive their first dose. As scheduled, vaccines should be available to the next group (Group 6) by the end of March, and this will open up eligibility to a wide range of people, including migrant and seasonal workers, people aged 45-65 with underlying conditions, and people living in low-income and/or independent senior homes.
In a press briefing on Feb. 26, Governor Kate Brown announced that so long as the federal government continues providing vaccines as scheduled, “come summer… any Oregonian who wants the vaccine will be eligible to receive it.” More specifically, any Oregon resident 16 years old or older will be able to get the vaccine starting July 1 if nationwide vaccine distribution is not significantly interrupted before then.
Additional promising news includes a third vaccine soon available to aid in combat against the virus; Johnson & Johnson just received FDA emergency approval for their one-dose vaccine. The vaccine thus far has some striking advantages and disadvantages.
Being just one dose is an obvious advantage. It is predicted to be more efficient to administer, as recipients only need to visit a clinic and fill out paperwork once and tracking time between multiple doses will not be an issue. One potential disadvantage is that, in trials, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine was found to be less effective at preventing illness as the other two double-dose vaccines currently on the market. Health officials suggest this lower effectiveness is still better than no protection though, and it should be noted that efficacy was 72% in U.S. trials and 52% in trials in South Africa (where the B.1.351 variant is dominant).
State Economic Status
The Oregon Office of Economic Analysis (OEA) released a new report last week that makes brighter-than-expected predictions for the economic status of the state in the new few years.
While joblessness has increased since the start of the pandemic (Oregon has lost 9% of jobs) and people are experiencing homelessness at a shocking rate, economic recovery is now expected earlier than was originally predicted. According to the OEA report, full job recovery is anticipated by early 2023.
In addition, middle and upper-class households have actually increased their wealth by increasing personal savings, a side-effect of the pandemic and threats to jobs. While this highlights wealth disparities in the state, it also may result in the triggering of an Oregon state kicker tax credit in the upcoming years.
Because of the additional saved revenues of private households, the state’s aggregate income is increasing while jobs are predicted to return, which means that there is a chance Oregonians could get a 2% tax return in 2022.
Weekly Update Summary
There are reasons to be hopeful and reasons to be cautious this week. The new vaccine coming to the market should mean less COVID transmission and therefore less variants popping up in the future. Oregon is also on track to have vaccine eligibility open for all adults in five months. An early return of the job market will also help heal some of the damage done by historic job loss and homelessness during the pandemic. But we are not there yet. As the U.S. passed half a million COVID deaths last week, we are reminded that while there is light at the end of the tunnel, we are still in that tunnel and should follow guidelines set up by the state and health organizations.
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 email@example.com.