Benton County added 32 confirmed COVID-19 cases to the county-wide case count in the past week, for a total of 2,347 cases within the past full year. That is fewer confirmed cases than the week previous, and as a result, the county’s average two-week case metrics continues to decrease, which bodes well for certain businesses re-opening or increasing capacity. Unfortunately, state-wide COVID cases increased from around 200 to over 500 per day last week, compared to roughly 200 to 400 the previous week.  

Similarly, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported an increase in cases for the U.S. over the past week, with cases ranging from 41,606 last Sunday to a peak of 124,266 the following day. That is the most cases reported by the CDC since early February. The total case count for the country is just over 29,229,000, and 8,748 more people died from COVID last week, bringing the U.S. death toll to 531,766 

Benton County Now at High Risk 

Effective starting this past Friday, March 12, Benton County’s risk severity level has been downgraded from extreme to high risk. This shift means that recommendations on everything from social gatherings to professional and business conduct have changed. Social gatherings of small size (maximum 6 people indoors, 8 outdoors) are now allowed and restaurants can increase indoor dining capacity to 25% occupancy or 50 people (whichever is the smaller number). Similarly, gyms and fitness centers may welcome guests at 25% occupancy and/or 50 people. 

Office work is still recommended to be conducted remotely, but individuals may now be allowed to visit their family members currently residing in long-term care facilities. Face masks and social distancing are still state-wide policies for avoiding transmission of the virus.   

Local School Districts Reopening 

The Corvallis School District is now moving forward with its hybrid model of incorporating both in-person and remote learning for students, starting with the youngest groups. This week, both kindergarten and first graders may be attending school in-person 2-3 days per week if parents choose to send them, and will be continuing remote education for the remainder of the week. CSD will be welcoming back 2-5th graders next week for optional hybrid learning. During in-school learning, elementary through high school students will be placed and moved between classrooms in cohorts to limit contact with other students.  

Many schools across the nation are re-opening to in-person learning as multiple European countries are experiencing COVID surges within their populations of school-aged children. Both Italy and Germany have reported rapid increases in positive COVID cases among students and staff as a result of in-person teaching in schools in the past few months. Of these cases, the B.1.1.7 (or the U.K.) variant is the predominant strain of the virus responsible for these large school-based transmissions.  

While cases in Italy had been declining, they are now rising sharply again and the country is preparing for another lockdown, which will include the closing of schools once more.  

Benton County Vaccine Locations 

Currently, Oregon is in Phase 1B of its vaccination plan and most recently made Group 5 all individuals 65 or older, or with co-morbidities –  eligible to receive the vaccine. There are multiple places to receive the COVID vaccine in Benton County, including the following locations:  

Currently, state and federal organizations are focused on large-scale vaccination opportunities, and thus smaller clinics and medical groups have yet to receive any of the three vaccines from Pfizer, Moderna, or Johnson & Johnson.  

Just last week the state of Oregon received its first round of the new one-dose J&J vaccine, enough to vaccinate over 34,000 residents.  

To stay up-to-date on locations of vaccinations and sign-up information within Benton County, you can sign up for updates at https://www.co.benton.or.us/covid19/page/vaccine-email-distribution-list 

One-Year Anniversary of World-Wide Pandemic 

This week marks the one-year anniversary of the World Health Organization declaring COVID-19 a world-wide pandemic. To date, the world has experienced over 2.5 million deaths from the virus, and as countries struggle to vaccinate their people, variants are surging.  

A study recently published in British Medical Journal found that the B.1.1.7 (U.K.) variant is more deadly than the original virus, finding a “64% increased risk of death” among the population investigated. So, while President Biden gave a speech last week that was full of hope and determination for America’s perseverance, officials are still wary of future damage caused by the pandemic and are urging the public to remain vigilant for the wellbeing of themselves and their communities.  

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