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A COVID-19 particle is pictured in this image provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC/CONTRIBUTED PHOTO]

Baker County’s rate of new COVID-19 cases over the six-day period ending Thursday, Jan. 21, was the slowest in almost three months.

The county reported 12 new cases for the period Jan. 16-21. The daily totals were two, zero, three, two, four and one.

The county hasn’t had a six-day period with fewer new virus cases since Oct. 18-23, when there were two positive tests.

Since then, however, the county has averaged about 32 new cases every six days. The county has tallied 465 of its 579 cases, as of Thursday, since Oct. 26.

“I’m delighted that the numbers are going down,” Baker County Commissioner Mark Bennett said on Friday, Jan. 22.

Nancy Staten, director of the Baker County Health Department, was also pleased with the declining trend.

She said it’s likely that the recent drop, from a total of 48 new cases for the previous six-day period, Jan. 10-15, reflects the end of a surge following the holiday season, when more people attended parties or other social gatherings.

Staten said local health officials are “holding our breath” for the potential that Baker County could drop from the state’s extreme-risk level, with its ban on indoor restaurant dining among other restrictions, to the high-risk category starting Jan. 29.

To meet the state standards to drop to high risk for the two-week period starting Jan. 29, which would allow restaurants to have limited indoor dining, the county would need to meet both of these thresholds, measured for the period Jan. 10-23:

• fewer than 60 new cases

• a test positivity rate of less than 10%

As of Friday the county was on pace to meet the first metric, with 53 new cases, but Staten said the test positivity rate was at nearly 14%.

Bennett pointed out that Baker County has to meet both standards because the state designates it as a medium-size county, those with populations between 15,000 and 30,000 (Baker County has about 16,800 residents). If the county had fewer than 15,000 residents it would need to meet only the case count threshold; the test positivity rate wouldn’t be a factor.

Bennett said he has lobbied state officials to change those requirements, but to no avail.

The county likely would have trimmed its positivity rate this week had a free testing clinic set for Wednesday, Jan. 20, not been canceled by the Oregon Health Authority.

Bennett said OHA canceled such events across the state due to security concerns related to the inauguration of President Joe Biden that day.

During two previous testing clinics in Baker City, on Jan. 6 and Dec. 16, there were just four positive tests out of 216 people tested. That’s a positivity rate of 1.8%, well below the county’s current two-week average.

Bennett said he also urged state officials to consider more than just case numbers and positivity rates. For instance, he said the intensive care capacity in Boise hospitals, where Baker County residents with severe COVID-19 cases have been treated, has increased recently.

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