Baker County is on Oregon’s COVID-19 “watch list.” This designation, which county officials announced Wednesday, sounds troubling. But the statistics show that Baker County’s situation is one that most of Oregon’s 35 other counties would gladly accept.

As of Friday, Baker County, with 13 cases, had fewer cases than 29 of those 35 counties. And of the six counties with fewer cases, five have populations considerably smaller than Baker County’s 16,800 — Wheeler (0 cases, 1,450 residents); Grant (one and 7,360); Harney (two and 7,360); Gilliam (two and 1,990); and Sherman (five and 1,770). Only Curry County, with nine cases, has more residents than Baker County, with a population of 23,000. Baker County also has more negative tests — 675 as of Thursday) than five of the six counties, Curry again being the exception with 826 negative tests.

In addition, Baker County has had fewer virus cases than any of the eight other counties on the watch list — substantially fewer than seven of those. Among the eight, only Lake County, with 24 cases, has had fewer than 117.

But there are no guarantees that Baker County will continue to have relatively few cases. We need to take the simple but effective steps to reduce the risk, including social distancing and wearing face masks in indoor public settings and outdoors when social distancing isn’t possible.

In the meantime, being on the watch list for at least the next 3 weeks isn’t so daunting. County Commissioner Mark Bennett said the designation could help the county accelerate testing for the virus.

— Jayson Jacoby, Baker City Herald editor

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