February 4, 2021

The County’s COVID-19 curve has hit a plateau in the last 2 weeks, as hospitalizations continue to decline, but the County remains in the extreme risk category, Public Health Director Jessica Guernsey at Tuesday’s Board Briefing on disease trends and vaccination plans.

“While we do feel positive about where we are right now, we are concerned about the different variants of the disease we have identified in Oregon and Multnomah County,” Guernsey said. “We know we have to be diligent with our prevention efforts as we slowly roll out the vaccine in order to stay in good standing.”

While testing percent positivity has decreased, racial and ethnic disparities persist among Latinx communities. Percent-positivity among Latinx community members remains above 9 percent, about 3.5 times greater than the 2.6 percent positivity among nonhispanic Whites.

“We’re not saying let off the brakes on any of the prevention efforts we’ve all been engaged in for a year,” Guernsey said. “It is so important right now especially with the increased appearance of new COVID-19 variants.”

Vaccination efforts

Multnomah County is continuing its efforts to educate the public about vaccine access, advocate for equity in vaccine distribution and stand up closed vaccination pods for people who are at high-risk and hardest to reach. The state has sent the majority of vaccine to a regional hospital consortium to vaccinate educators and people who are defined as Phase 1A eligible—healthcare workers, educators, childcare workers, and people with disabilities requiring in-home care. A separate small portion has been provided to counties for certain residential facilities and individuals who are unable to attend larger vaccination sites. 

Commissioners Jessica Vega Pederson and Susheela Jayapal, who both recently visited the OHSU vaccination clinic at the Portland Airport said they were impressed at the level of accommodations available for those with disabilities.

“I was really impressed because they had done a lot of work of making sure it was set up for people who maybe couldn’t wear a mask or couldn’t get out of their car, or were prone and were really so accessible knowing how vulnerable these populations are,” Vega Pederson said. 

As of January 31, 67,337 people in Multnomah County had received at least one dose of vaccine. The state expanded eligibility to a greater number of residents in Phase 1b, including educators. Seniors 80 years and older will be eligible for the vaccine beginning Feb. 8. 

But officials are quick to point out eligibility doesn’t equate to access. Until more vaccine doses can be produced and delivered, the shortage means most of those who are eligible will face long waits.

As the vaccination access expands, Jayapal said, the County must focus on reaching underserved communities.

“We know that those (existing) sites are not going to be the pathways for many of the most vulnerable folks,” Commissioner Jayapal said.  “The idea of a mobile (vaccination) unit really does seem essential.”

The Board thanked Public Health for their hard work and perseverance during a very challenging time.

“I know the Public Health Team is working around the clock… and it is a very emotionally taxing job, so I just want to make sure you all are taking self care,” said Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury.  “These are heavy issues, ensuring people are getting vaccines as quickly as possible with all the hurdles we have in front of us, so thank you to our Public Health Team, I think we all owe you a debt of gratitude.”