This week, Benton County reported 33 new cases of COVID-19. This is a decrease compared to the number of cases reported last week and continues the county’s trend of declining COVID transmission events throughout the month of May. Overall, Benton County has reported 3,194 cases of the virus since the beginning of the pandemic.   

Reser Stadium at OSU remains the only mass vaccination clinic in the county. Anyone eligible over the age of 12, with an appointment, can receive a vaccine at this site. You can visit the county’s vaccine webpage to learn more and schedule your vaccine appointment.  

Statewide, Oregon reported just less than 2,200 new cases, with between roughly 250 to 430 cases reported per day. The U.S. reported roughly 132,400 cases this week, which is also a decrease compared to the week before, and the sixth straight week of declining case rates in the country.  

Benton County Now in Lower Risk Category 

This week Benton County dropped from a “high risk” to “lower risk” category, meaning restrictions will ease even more and people can feel a little safer doing more in public. Indoor social gatherings can now include up to 10 people from up to 4 households — the household limit is a recommendation. Capacity inside restaurants and bars has increased to 50% with outdoor capacity up to 300 people.  

Stores, including grocery stores and shopping outlets, can now welcome 75% of their maximum occupancy limits, as can churches and funeral homes. Gyms, pools, and sports facilities are limited to 50% occupancy.  

Policies on Masking-Up in Public 

In response to the declining number of COVID-19 cases reported throughout the state, the Oregon Health Authority has changed its guidelines on mask wearing.  

Businesses now have two options: continue insisting that patrons and guests wear masks at all times and practice social distance, or require proof that a patron/guest is vaccinated, in which case mask-wearing and social distancing is not necessary. Individuals can provide proof of vaccination by showing the white vaccination card given to them at the time they received their first dose, or have a photo or scan of their card.  

All people entering a business should not take off their mask or assume they have the ability to ignore social distancing guidelines until their vaccination status has been checked by a store or restaurant employee.  

The OHA still requires unvaccinated people to wear a mask in public at all times and practice social distancing, regardless of if a business is checking vaccine status.  

There are numerous public organizations and centers that these new mask recommendations do not apply to, including day care centers, schools, health care facilities, prisons, and more. A full list of exceptions to the new guidelines can be found on Benton County’s COVID guidance webpage 

COVID’s Origin – Questions Still Remain 

Recently, the theories surrounding how and where the COVID-19 pandemic began have resurfaced in the media. The same two theories that existed a year ago remain today. The first is that the pandemic was caused naturally by a zoonotic disease — one that is transferred between animal species — spread from an animal to a human. The second theory is that the virus was actually released from a virology lab in Wuhan, China.  

The BBC published an article on Friday that explains the difference between these two theories in detail, the probability of each, and what experts are saying about the subject. There is currently no consensus on which potential origin story is correct. The World Health Organization conducted an in-depth investigation of the virology lab in Wuhan, and while it did not find anything definitive, it came to a conclusion that it was likely the virus originated from an animal and not an accidental spillover from a laboratory.  

However, researchers and health experts have found multiple problems in the way the study of the virology lab was conducted, and thus have dismissed parts of or the entirety of the report. President Biden announced on Thursday that an intense three-month investigation will take place to identify where the virus came from.  

Health officials and researchers alike agree it is vital that we understand where the COVID virus came from if we have any hopes to avoid another pandemic in the future.  

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