According to the NY Times COVID-19 Data Tracker, Benton County added at least 175 reported cases of COVID-19 to its pandemic-wide case count, totaling 5,090 reported cases in the county since March, 2020. According to recently released statistics on the county’s website, the first week in October marked the highest weekly case rate of the virus the county has seen since the start of the pandemic with 199 cases.
Statewide, Oregon reported just under 10,850 cases of COVID-19 within the last week. This is a significant decrease of nearly 25% compared to the week before, continuing a welcomed trend of declining case reports throughout the state.
Based on sequencing of samples conducted by the Oregon Health Authority, the Delta variant has been solely responsible for 98-100% of transmissions throughout Oregon for the last six weeks. This past week was also the fifth week of declining case rates throughout the U.S. The country reported just under half a million cases last week, which is more than 100,000 less than reports from the first week in October.
Oregon Death Toll Reaches Grim Milestone
While COVID case reports are steadily declining throughout the state, the OHA reported the highest daily death count due to the virus this past week. On October 8, Oregon announced 59 deaths due to COVID had been reported to the state agency. This is the highest number of deaths reported in a single day so far, with 54 being the previously highest record within one day.
Tragically, while deaths due to COVID-19 throughout the U.S. have declined within the past month, Oregon experienced a particularly deadly week.
Pharmaceutical Companies Seek FDA Approval
Three long-awaited weapons to strengthen our fight against COVID are being reviewed by the Food and Drug Administration.
Johnson & Johnson announced last week that it is seeking FDA approval for a booster shot developed for individuals who received the single-dose J&J vaccine. According to a representative for the company, the trials conducted with thousands of J&J vaccine recipients showed a significant boosting of antibodies in people who received a booster shot, regardless of age. This is promising for anyone who received the original one-time shot who is hoping to bolster their protection against the virus this winter. The FDA is planning to convene and discuss the J&J booster this week.
Pfizer announced they are seeking FDA approval for their mRNA vaccine for use in children aged 5- to 11-years-old. Results of trials conducted on almost 2,300 children within this age group showed that the vaccine is both safe and effective for its young recipients. Similarly for adults who receive this vaccine, the Pfizer vaccine for children is a two-dose regime, recommended to be spaced three weeks apart. The dose for kids in this age group is roughly a third the amount administered to older individuals. The FDA is planning to meet to discuss the Pfizer vaccine for young children on October 26.
Finally, the pharmaceutical company Merck & Ridgeback Biotherapeutics — often referred to as Merck — is hoping to receive an FDA emergency use authorization for its antiviral pill to combat the virus within COVID-positive individuals. The antiviral treatment, called molnupiravir, is a treatment that, according to Merck, reduced the likelihood of hospitalization or death by 50% for people who had mild to moderate COVID-19 symptoms.
According to an article published by CNN, Merck hopes to produce up to 10 million antiviral treatments by the end of the year, and the U.S. government has already purchased nearly two million courses of the pill. The data from trials has yet to be peer-reviewed, so it might take longer for the FDA to fully review the results and come to a decision about the treatments efficacy and safety.
CDC Releases Holiday Guidelines
Last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released preliminary guidelines for having a safe holiday season during the continuing pandemic. While the organization also announced it is not the final list of recommended steps to take to keep you and your loved ones safe, these tips will help to reduce transmission of the virus.
First, it is recommended to increase ventilation inside as much as possible. While the CDC still encourages outdoor gatherings for groups of multiple households, opening windows or using a window fan will help circulate air in indoor rooms and reduce the risk of clouds of virus particles hanging around.
Second, the traditional social distancing, mask wearing, and vaccination are still considered the holy grail of pandemic safety. The CDC recommends anyone older than 2-years-old should wear masks at indoor gatherings. In general, the outdoors is thought to be safer and reduces the necessity of masks due to natural ventilation and dispelling of exhaled particles.
Third, because social distancing is still the safest option, the CDC recommends organizing virtual get togethers, drive-by celebrations, and dropping gifts off on porches.
The steps recommended for you to keep your family safe will ultimately depend on the vaccination status of everyone in your group that may be at the Halloween party, around the Thanksgiving table, or gathered around the Christmas tree this year.
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.