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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 COVID-19 cases has dropped by more than half during May compared with April.

And the biggest drop has been among residents 70 and older, who are significantly more likely to become severely sick or to die if they’re infected.Between May 1-20, no county resident in that age range tested positive for the virus, according to the Baker County Health Department.

The infection rate among county residents 70 and older has dropped over the past two months:

• 17.5% of new cases from March 23 through April 2

• 9.9% of new cases from April 3-21

• 2% of new cases from April 15-30

Of the 15 county residents who have died after testing positive for COVID-19, according to the Oregon Health Authority (OHA), all but one was older than 70. The lone exception is a 59-year-old man who died on Feb. 2.

On Thursday, May 20, the OHA reported that a 74-year-old Baker County man had died May 15, after testing positive for the virus on May 3.

The man had underlying medical conditions, according to OHA.

“I’m very sorry for his family and friends’ loss,” Baker County Commissioner Mark Bennett said in a press release. “Over a year into this pandemic, it hasn’t gotten any easier to receive a report like this. I ask that everyone stay aware that there are, and are going to continue to be, individuals who haven’t or can’t receive a vaccine. Thanks for everything you’ve done to protect our community, and please continue to make choices that protect each other.”

The death reported Thursday was the county’s first COVID-19-related fatality in more than a month.

A 71-year-old Baker County woman died on on April 14 at a Boise hospital, seven days after testing positive.

Case rates

From May 1-20, Baker County reported 42 new cases, a rate of 2.1 per day. The daily case rate during April was 5.4.

If May’s trend continues, it will have the lowest daily case rate since October.

For the 13-day period May 8-20, the county reported no new cases on five days, and a single case on six days.

“Our numbers are better than what we’ve seen in months,” said Nancy Staten, director of the Baker County Health Department.

While there have been no infections among residents 70 and older in May, the largest share of cases during the month has been among people 9 and younger. That group, which accounted for just 1.8% of cases from March 23 to April 2, had 29.6% of cases from May 1-15.

Staten said those younger residents have generally had cold-like symptoms, some of which initially were thought to be allergies.

Vaccinations

As of Thursday, May 20, a total of 5,998 Baker County residents — 35.7% of the population of about 16,800 — were either fully vaccinated (5,218, or 31.1%) or partially vaccinated (780, or 4.6%).

The vaccination rate is highest among residents 80 and older, 67% of whom are fully or partially vaccinated. Most of those people — 694 of 742 — are fully vaccinated.

The second-highest vaccination rate 66.3%, is among people ages 70 to 74.

Staten said she doesn’t think it’s a coincidence that infections among residents older than 70 have plummeted as that age group’s vaccination status has increased.

“That’s protecting people from getting COVID,” Staten said. “That just makes sense.”

Rates are lower among younger residents, many of whom weren’t eligible for inoculation until some time in March or April.

Vaccination rates range from 45% for people ages 60 to 64, to 14.6% for ages 16 to 19, who have been eligible to be vaccinated for a month.

The OHA also has started tracking vaccination rates by ZIP code. In Baker County:

• Sumpter: 134 of 282 residents vaccinated, 47.5%

• Halfway: 391 of 904, 43.3%

• Haines: 291 of 740, 39.3%

• Baker City: 4,533 of 12,348, 36.7%

• Durkee: 26 of 85, 30.6%

• Unity: 28 of 129, 29.5%

• Richland: 229 of 798, 28.7%

• Huntington: 132 of 501, 26.3%

• Bridgeport/Hereford: 20 of 77, 26%

• Oxbow, 24 of 216, 11.1%

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