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Lincoln County Commissioners heard their weekly COVID-19 update last Wednesday, and Dr. Lesley Ogden, CEO of the two Samaritan hospitals in Lincoln County, spoke to hospital capacity and plans in place in the event they have a surge.

Commission chair Doug Hunt asked about virus mutation and variants becoming more deadly as it spreads among the unvaccinated.

“Unvaccinated people, and even immunocompromised people who have gotten the virus have been found to be sources of some of that mutation, albeit they cannot do anything about that, but the unvaccinated certainly can,” Ogden said.

She said it’s much more concerning across the world where some countries have vaccination percentages in the single digits.

“I think we’re changing our minds about how this ends,” Ogden said.

“I think when it all started, we were all hopeful that we would get vaccinated, we would reach herd immunity, and this would sort of die out much like we saw with the flu pandemic in 1918. We sort of saw a two year cycle,” she said. “We’re thinking now that this will be an ongoing battle, and what we hope is that we get enough people vaccinated, that our death rates become palatable, much like they do for influenza each year.”

She said the prior thinking was that each year there might be a season or we might have to get vaccinated for a new variant.

“But COVID is here to stay,” Ogden said. “We just have to figure out how to better deal with it.”

Ogden shared the capacity of both the hospital in Newport and Lincoln City. At that time, they had five COVID positive patients with two in the ICU. She said it was tight but they were holding their own. She went into some detail regarding how the hospitals would be able to react to a surge.

“We believe that a big reason why we have not been completely overwhelmed is because of the high vaccination rates that we are seeing within our county,” Ogden said. “Again, the majority of those who are staying with COVID positive Coronavirus status are those people who are unvaccinated and those are the ones who are ending up with the most serious cases and needing our ICU care.”

All three commissioners requested that if the hospitals ever see a trend and became close to being over capacity due to a COVID surge that she alert them so that they could consider some policy changes that might help slow the spread.

Commissioner Jacobson asked Dr. Gray if they have seen anyone coming in for medical attention after self-medicating with ivermectin the anti-parasitic for animals with limited authorization for humans.

Dr. Gray said they have not had anyone show up in their emergency rooms for that in particular, but they have seen posters around advocating that people should demand use of it as treatment.

“We have been, of course, scouring our campus, making sure that that these things do not stay up, because they are, number one, very inflammatory and number two, completely untrue,” Ogden said. “They cite study after study that shows that ivermectin is something that people should be using and of course all of these studies are flawed, and are not up to the scientific method that we would advocate for it. Again, there is no medical understanding in the mainstream that this is anything we should be using.”

Interim public health director Florence Pourtal presented ever changing weekly numbers  that seemed to indicate a slight drop from the week before. She noted that from the time the vaccine became available, breakthrough cases, meaning people who tested positive for COVID after being vaccinated was 12.4 percent. She also said that Lincoln County had one of the highest overall vaccination rates in the state and 78.1 percent.

“This is really encouraging and we’re getting way closer to 80 percent benchmark that had been set up by the Oregon Health Authority,” Pourtal said.

Pourtal addressed that recently some people were having difficulties getting tested in the community. She said they are working with the Oregon Health Authority and Willamette Valley. Toxicology Laboratory to offer testing opportunities at their vaccination clinics.

Earlier in the meeting, the commissioners voted in favor of public health spending approximately $40,000 to purchase a van for their vaccination clinics. Pourtal said they had been renting a van since June, and the purchase will allow them to do more vaccination clinics in the future.

Echo Mountain Fire Update

Commissioner Kaety Jacobson said the anniversary of the Echo Mountain fire has just passed.

“We’re not all back together yet. There’s still a lot of people living in hotels and a lot of barriers for people to get back home,” Jacobson said. “There’s still a lot of people in our community in limbo right now. Recovery is, as I’m learning, not a sprint but more like a marathon.”

She also addressed the assertion that no one was lost in the fire.

“It’s true that no one died of the fire itself, but there’s a family that does feel like their family member did pass away and due to the fire and the circumstances surrounding that,” she said. “My understanding of the situation is that during the evacuation, this person fell and had a head injury while they were trying to evacuate, and then died a few days later of that head injury.”

“I just want to acknowledge that family,” Jacobson said.

Jacobsen also mentioned a call to the county from a developer who is looking at using disaster credits to build housing for survivors who are not able to go back home, like renters or people who lack the resources to rebuild. She said it would possibly be about 16 units for senior housing to eventually be turned over to the housing authority.

More discussion is expected in the future.

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