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Health officials say the most effective way to slow the COVID-19 pandemic and its variants is for people to be vaccinated, to receive booster shots, and to wear masks in public indoor settings.

It appears the Omicron variant has reached Curry County, resulting in a significant increase of positive COVID-19 cases.

Between January 2-6, the Oregon Health Authority reported 167 new cases in Curry County.

The OHA’s website, which posts results from two days prior, reported a whopping 79 positive cases for Curry County on January 8.

In comparison and for the entire week leading up to Christmas, only 13 cases were reported. The increased cases have not impacted the cumulative death toll, which remains at 40 people in Curry County.

The Omicron-variant was first detected in Oregon on Dec. 13, but quickly accounted for over 64% of the cases in the state by Dec. 19. As of Jan. 10, that variable had not been updated. Though the Omicron variant has not yet been confirmed in Curry County, recent rapid-test results at St. Timothy’s Episcopal Church in Brookings - which has OHA authority to test for COVID-19 - may suggest it’s arrived.

“So far in 2022, we have done 199 tests with 46 people coming up positive,” said Father Bernie Lindley with St. Tim’s on Friday, Jan. 7.

The 23% positivity rate at St. Timothy’s was almost double the 13% cumulative rate that the clinic logged when it tested 5,249 people between July 28 and Dec. 31 of last year.

Lindley also said that 129 people tested at St. Timothy’s on Monday, Jan. 10, and 34 people tested positive.

“In December it was relatively quiet, it’s not so quiet now,” Lindley said.

According to Lindley, individuals retested after quarantine in order to return to work, and who test positive a second time, are not included in their numbers.

“I’m concerned about schools because we had a child test positive and that child was at school the day before,” Lindley said.

Brookings-Harbor School District Superintendent David Marshall said they have seen a slight increase in COVID-19 cases, but as of Friday, Jan. 7, “it’s not a dramatic uptick,” he said. According to Marshall, six students and two staff members were COVID positive. Brookings-Harbor Unified includes three schools, and has 1,600 students and 220 staff members total.

“These numbers have not operationally impacted us, and we still have a strong system in place,” Marshall said, adding that they’ve been watching the numbers closely since returning from winter break.

Marshall added that a “public relations” campaign was held the first day of school after winter break to inform students that the fast-spreading Omicron variant is the new challenge, and that a layered strategy of vaccinations, testing, face coverings, physical distancing and other measures would continue.

Prior to the holidays, the school district also began allowing students exposed to COVID while at school to undergo a “test-to-stay” approach.

The goal, Marshall said, is to be able to keep students in the classroom, “but if we need to change, we have contingency plans and we could do that with virtually no disruption,” he said. Marshall added that two conditions could lead to a return to remote learning: there is not enough staff to operate a school, or the OHA determines that a school has experienced a significant outbreak.

“We are very much hoping that we won’t have to do that because our goal is to maximize in- person learning,” Marshall said.

Central Curry School District Superintendent Eric Milburn echoed Marshall’s sentiments.

“We have had an increase in numbers here at Central Curry, particularly at Riley Creek Elementary,” Milburn said.

According to Milburn, there were six confirmed cases of COVID as of Friday, Jan. 7, and another 50 students were being quarantined. Another 60 students who were exposed to COVID while at school are being “tested to stay.”

Two staff members had also tested positive - one from Riley Elementary and the other from Gold Beach High School.

“We had gone a long time without any cases at all, with the last being about a month ago,” Milburn said. “Given the numbers, we are thinking this is likely the Omicron variant. We are continuing to do larger mitigation to slow down the transfer of Omicron or other variants in school, and we will continue to be vigilant to be able to stay in operation and keep school days as normal as we can.”

Milburn added that he doesn’t anticipate any of the schools will revert to distance learning, “but staff did that very effectively last year and I have a lot of faith that we could do that if we needed to.”

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