File photo: Chas Hundley

To qualify for the “Lower Risk” status in Governor Kate Brown’s county risk framework, Washington County — currently at “High Risk” — must get at least one dose of a vaccine into the arms of 65% of the population who are ages 16 and up, and submit a plan to close gaps in vaccination adoption by minority groups in the county. 

The county submitted their equity plan to the state on Friday, May 14, according to Washington County Health and Human Services spokesperson Mary Sawyers.

And for a moment on Monday, May 17, it looked as if the county was within a stone’s throw of hitting the mark on vaccination percentages. According to data released Monday morning by the Oregon Health Authority, the county needed just 707 more people to be vaccinated with their first dose.

But, as it turns out, the Oregon Health Authority data for the ages 16 - 19 range was wrong. The state had inadvertently included the numbers for those under 16, which do not factor into the 65% target, into the ages 16 - 19 range.

The data snafu, which also hit the numbers for other counties, was first reported by KXL, who also flagged other irregularities in the state’s data. 

“In this instance, in preparation of the update to our dashboards, to include 12-15 year olds, it was identified that youth younger than 16 years old were included in the 16-19 year-old categories. OHA identified this issue and republished our dashboards and the data mid-afternoon. To be clear, the underlying data are correct but categories were not updated--the issue is now resolved,” a May 17 email to this newspaper from OHA spokesperson Rudy Owens read.

Owens also added that five counties — Washington, Benton, Lincoln, Hood River and Deschutes — had applied for Lower Risk status. 

“Their equity plans are under review. OHA will post county equity plans on the OHA website tomorrow and the governor’s office anticipates making an announcement tomorrow about which counties move to the lower risk level,” Owens said.

The corrected data on Monday afternoon showed that 4,424 Washington County residents would need their first dose of a vaccine for the state’s second-most populous county to drop into the lowest risk category. 

Washington County could still meet the target in time for this week’s risk level changes and qualify to drop to Lower Risk, but the math is more tenuous now. Governor Brown earlier said that county risk level changes for Friday, May 21 would be announced Tuesday, May 18. 

Medical providers must enter data into the tracking system the state uses within 72 hours of administering a vaccine, so some vaccines administered over the weekend may not have been logged yet, and numbers from May 17 have yet to be reported. Based on current trends, it’s all but certain that 4,424 county residents will have received a vaccine by Friday, but whether the OHA will calculate those trends into the expected decision on Tuesday remains to be seen. 

A drop to Lower Risk from High Risk would significantly ease restrictions on capacity limitations placed on businesses, churches, and social gatherings in Washington County. 

A current list of counties and their existing risk levels can be found here

The county’s plan to address equity gaps

“This plan outlines Washington County’s efforts to address the vaccination equity gap among communities of color and other underserved community members. We are committed to continuing and adjusting these efforts until we close the gap,” the opening statement of Washington County’s state-required plan reads. 

The ten-page document outlines how the county plans to and has been tackling the lower rate of vaccine adoption for several minority and ethnic groups. Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander residents have the highest rate of vaccination at 54%, followed by Asian residents at 48.2%, white residents at 46.2%, American Indian/Alaska Native residents at 44.9%, Hispanic/Latinx residents at 32.7%, and Black residents at 30.6%, according to the most recently available data compiled May 17 from the OHA.