WEEKLY COVID UPDATE: May 24

According to the New York Times COVID-19 Data Tracker, Benton Country reported 30 new cases of COVID-19 in the past week. This is a 63% decrease compared to case rates reported two weeks ago. County-wide, there have been 3,157 cases of COVID since the beginning of the pandemic.  

Reser Stadium in Corvallis remains the only mass vaccination clinic in the county, but appointments to receive the vaccine can also be made with physicians at individual medical clinics. You can visit the Benton County vaccine webpage to learn more. Any resident over the age of 12 who meets health eligibility criteria may receive the vaccine. 

Statewide, Oregon reported between 310 and 600 cases per day this past week, for a total of just over 3,100 new cases. The U.S. reported roughly 151,500 new cases this past week and had its sixth consecutive week of declining case reports.  

Ethnic Breakdown of COVID Vaccine Distribution 

In Oregon, over 1.7 million people have been fully vaccinated to date and an additional 500,000 are on their way, having had one shot of a two-dose vaccine. This is major news for the state, as this indicates that within three weeks, over half of Oregonians will be fully vaccinated against COVID-19. 

However, a racial discrepancy exists in how the vaccine is being administered. Almost 70% of vaccine recipients in Oregon have been white, while only 7.5% have been Hispanic/Latino. The U.S. Census Bureau estimates roughly 75% of Oregonians are white and that 13.5% are Latino. That means somewhere along the distribution line, whether that is trust in the medical field or access to vaccine clinics, there is a vaccination lag for the Latino community. 

According to the Kaiser Family Foundation’s The Conversation/La Conversación program, an initiative to dispel myths about the COVID pandemic amongst the Latinx community, there’s a strong interest and willingness amongst Latino adults to be vaccinated, but confusion about eligibility and access to vaccine centers has been identified as the strongest barrier to actually receiving the vaccine. 

In Oregon, vaccination rates of other racial groups, including Black, Asian, and American Native residents, closely resembles the residential composition of the state (i.e. roughly 2%, 5%, and 2% of the population respectively). 

COVID-19 Sweeping Through India 

If you’ve read or listened to the news at all in the last week, you’ve likely heard about the current COVID virus’s devastating effects on India. At the peak of the country’s second wave of the pandemic two weeks ago, around 400,000 COVID cases were being reported each day. Only back in January did the U.S. have case rates that rivaled this statistic, and that lasted briefly. While case rates are beginning to slowly decline in India, death rates have remained high and continue to climb. Nationwide, India reported over 4,000 deaths every day this past week due to the pandemic. 

There are multiple reasons the virus is spreading through the large country so quickly, but two main factors involve the B.1.617.2 variant, first identified in India, and the socioeconomic status of the vast majority of the country.  

The B.1.617.2 variant, like the U.K. variant B.1.1.7 that quickly spread through the U.S. this past winter, is similarly quick to transmit between humans. Because many parts of India are densely populated with a countrywide population of nearly 1.4 billion people, the variant has spread like wildfire.  

However, approximately 66% of the population in India is considered rural, meaning over half of Indians have limited access to information, transportation, or medical technologies. An article published recently by NPR describes a shortage of both vital medical equipment like ventilators and medically literate staff who know how to use such technology at clinics in some regions of the country.   

This has resulted in a painfully slow distribution of the vaccine in India. While the Pfizer vaccine has been found to be 88% effective at combating the B.1.617.2 variant, lack of access and supply issues to rural communities has meant only 11% of the country’s population has received at least one dose. Medical experts believe it could take years to adequately vaccinate India’s rural population. 

Virus Transmission Slowing in the U.S. 

While COVID case rates are surging in other parts of the world, the U.S. hit a welcomed milestone this week. For the first time in almost a year since the pandemic started, the country reported fewer than 30,000 new cases per day this past week. According to the New York Times, almost half of Americans have received at least one dose of the vaccine. Positivity rates of COVID tests have fallen below 3% nationwide for the first time since major testing started last summer. 

Oregon just experienced its fourth straight week of declining cases, a hopeful sign that the state and country’s third wave of the pandemic is coming to an end.   

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