Sources of new COVID-19 Cases in Wasco County

On the heels of a long stretch with no or few new cases of COVID-19 in late August, Wasco County saw 15 new cases from Sept. 1 to Sept. 7, bringing the total case count from 207 to 222.

The current case count is 224.

The increase locally is largely attributable to workplace outbreaks and social gatherings, said Jeremy Hawkins, epidemiologist for North Central Public Health District. That is similar to what is being reported statewide, he said.

“It doesn’t take much for things to spark back up and this is a good illustration that it’s a delicate balance,” Hawkins said. “All it takes is one event with a lot of people in attendance.”

A series of related social gatherings over several days that contributed to the new cases included events that had at least 10 people at them, he said.

Under state metrics, Wasco County schools with more than 250 students cannot begin in-person classes unless the county has fewer than three cases per week for three consecutive weeks, along with a test positivity rate of 5 percent or less countywide and statewide.

County schools with fewer than 250 students follow a less restrictive metric that allows the county to have up to 30 cases over a three-week period. However, there must be fewer than 6

cases the week prior to opening in order for in-person classes to begin. The state test positivity rate does not factor into this metric.

Sherman and Gilliam counties in-person schooling allowance follows the “low

population density” county metric. The total county COVID-19 cases must be less than 30 over three weeks, with less than half of those cases (or less than five cases) in the last week of the three-week period. There must not be community spread in the school catchment area or in the communities that serve as the primary employment or community centers.

In Gilliam County, Condon School began in-person learning on Sept. 8. Condon does not have a separate community center that could affect its metrics.

Arlington School District will begin in-person learning on Sept. 21. Sherman County School will hear on Sept. 14 if there were few enough cases in the previous week to allow opening.

Hawkins said the community still needs to be vigilant and take protective steps, which include wearing a mask, keeping at least six feet apart from others, gathering outdoors instead of indoors if possible, and avoiding gatherings of over 10 people.

Hawkins said local schools will more than likely be able to return to in-person schooling before large metro schools can, but smaller areas also have less of a buffer, meaning just a few cases can tip the county into not being able to do in-person schooling.

“Not meeting the metrics, all it takes is a few cases for us,” he said.

He cautioned that when things do re-open, it not’s a given that it’s permanent. People need to be prepared to go back to distance learning if cases spike, he said.