Curry County is in the midst of an unprecedented surge of COVID-19.
On Monday, the county reported more cases per capita than any other county in the state, according to data from the Oregon Health Authority.
The 136 cases occurring over the weekend and reported Monday also illustrated a sharp uptick from the previous Monday when 55 cases were reported. The surge has moved the county’s running daily average for COVID-19 cases from 14 to 36. Additionally, from Friday to Sunday, the county saw a 20.4% test positivity rate. Since the beginning of the pandemic, there have been 1,148 cases and 13 deaths linked to the virus.
Ginny Williams, CEO of Curry Health Network, said the Delta variant seems to be hitting Southern Oregon especially hard right now.
“Southern Oregon really is the new hotspot for us. It used to be the Portland metro area and Washington, but this variant has definitely migrated and taken hold down here,” said Williams.
According to Williams, each person infected with the Delta variant can transmit the disease to eight additional individuals, whereas those infected with previous strains could only infect about two people. Meaning, the virus can spread more quickly and to a greater number of people.
“We are definitely testing more people, we are seeing a higher positivity rate, and we are seeing a younger population. We are continuing to see people seeking services in the emergency room,” said Williams.
Despite the surge and backlogs at hospitals across the state, Williams said they are still able to transfer patients in-need of intensive care from Curry General Hospital to ICUs without much delay, and there are still a few available beds at the hospital. Additionally, the health network has not yet had to activate its surge plan, which would pull nurses from other settings, including outpatient care, to treat COVID patients.
However, Williams warned the situation may get worse, as state health officials are expecting the peak of the current surge to arrive sometime in September.
Last week, Gov. Kate Brown announced the state would be deploying up to 1,500 National Guard members to assist at hospitals overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients.
According to the announcement, 500 National Guard members will be sent to more than 20 hospitals in Oregon as soon as Aug. 20 to provide logistical support as materials handlers and equipment runners, as well as assisting with COVID-19 testing and other services. The same day, Brown also renewed a statewide mask mandate for indoor public spaces.
Williams said the health network applied to bring in some of those National Guard members to assist at Curry General, and while they cannot provide advanced medical care, she said they could use the extra support.
“They can definitely help us with patient-sitting, they can help us with screening, they can help us with testing, they can help us with vaccines, so there’s a lot they can do,” said Williams.
To help curb the spread of the virus and ease the burden on health care workers, Williams urged the public to do their part.
“We need to mask up and we need to distance. You need to wash your hands, and you need to be vaccinated if you haven’t been. I really do believe that is the public’s number one safeguard against this. We’ve slowed this down before and we could do it again, but it’s going to take a concerted effort,” she said.
During the surge, St. Timothy’s Episcopal Church in Brookings has been offering free COVID-19 testing and vaccines out of the church’s basement. On Monday, about 20 people were gathered on the lawn outside — either waiting for a shot or a test result.
Guadalupe Calderón, an employee at South Coast Lumber Co., was one of many waiting for a test result. Calderón said he took a test because he was beginning to experience mild symptoms of COVID-19, and he wanted to know for sure.
Earlier this month, South Coast Lumber Co. temporarily shut down, partially due to high-rates of COVID-19 among employees.
Although, if Calderón tested positive, he said he was unlikely to have contracted it from the mill because he works alone for the most part.
As of of Tuesday, 49.5% of Curry residents were fully vaccinated and an additional 7.6% had received at least one dose. The county is administering about 30 doses of vaccine per day, a steep decline from April when the county was giving out more than 300 shots per day. Curry’s vaccination rate is ranked 20th of the 36 counties in Oregon.
Recently, the Centers for Disease Control recommended COVID-19 booster shots for immunocompromised individuals, including those who have received chemotherapy, an organ transplant, or have an immunodeficiency.
Those wanting a COVID-19 test or vaccine can call the Curry Health Network at 541-412-2000 to schedule an appointment.
Additionally, the Coast Community Health center in Port Orford is hosting COVID-19 testing from 1:30-4:30 p.m. and vaccines from 8:20-11:40 a.m. St. Timothy’s Episcopal Church in Brookings is hosting COVID-19 testing from 12-3 p.m. Monday-Saturday and giving out vaccinations from 1-3 p.m. Wednesday and Saturday.