Face masks. Photo: Chas Hundley
The end of Oregon’s county risk level framework is in sight, if 70% of Oregonians age 16 and up receive their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, Governor Kate Brown announced Tuesday, May 11.
The governor also announced that counties that reach a 65% first-dose vaccine threshold for the same age group and submit a plan to the state “close equity gaps in vaccination,” will be able to apply to move to the Lower Risk level beginning on May 21 on a weekly basis, according to a press release from Brown’s office.
Washington County is at the “High Risk” level, which restricts capacity at restaurants, gyms, stores, and other businesses.
If the risk level framework ends, it will lift a number of COVID-19 restrictions on businesses, churches, and gatherings.
According to the most recently available data from the Oregon Health Authority, 61.1% of Washington County’s 16 and up population has received at least one dose of a vaccine.
Statewide, 56.6% of Oregon’s 16 and older population has received at least a first dose.
“Thanks to you, Oregon, it looks like we’ve crossed the tipping point of the fourth surge,” said Governor Brown in prepared remarks. “Our hospitalization rates have stabilized. Our infection rates are on a downward trajectory. And in the race between vaccines and variants, our efforts to vaccinate Oregonians are taking the lead. We still have some work to do to reach our 70% goal, but I am confident we can get there in June and return Oregon to a sense of normalcy. So Oregon, this is our goal. We each play a part. If you have already been vaccinated, thank you.”
Brown urged those already vaccinated to reach out to friends, family members, and neighbors to become vaccinated.
The state also said that mask mandates and social distancing guidelines could still remain in effect once the state hits the 70% threshold.
“Every person who chooses to get vaccinated means the virus has fewer ways to spread and mount any more surges in hospitalizations and deaths and less chance to mutate in dangerous ways that could spiral us back into high risk,” said Oregon Health Authority Director Pat Allen during a Tues. May 11 press conference.
“For the first time since the start of the pandemic, we’ll be able to say the virus no longer controls the timelines in our lives. We will – if enough Oregonians make the choice to get vaccinated.”
The Food and Drug Administration approved the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for emergency use in those ages 12 – 15 on Monday, May 10, but approval to start administering doses for those ages isn’t expected until Wednesday, May 12.
It wasn’t immediately clear if the state would alter the target of 70% to include those ages 12 and up if the vaccine is allowed for those younger than 16.
An emergency meeting has been scheduled for 11 a.m. Wednesday, April 12, where the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, known as ACIP, will determine whether or not to recommend to the CDC the new age range for the Pfizer vaccine.
In Oregon, the decision to use the vaccine for the new age bracket will follow the ACIP meeting after the Western States Scientific Safety Review Workgroup (WSSSRW) — a consortium of health professionals from Oregon, Washington, California, and Nevada — meets to discuss the findings of the advisory committee.
More information about finding a vaccine in Washington County is available at the Washington County Health and Human Services website or by dialing 211.
Portland’s Oregon Convention Center (777 NE Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard), retrofitted into a streamlined vaccine facility, is offering walk-in vaccines in May, but will cease offering first doses after May, allowing only second doses to recipients in June, and closing later that same month. More information for the Oregon Convention Center vaccine can be found at all4oregon.org.
This story has been updated with remarks from OHA director Pat Allen and information on the FDA’s approval of the vaccine for younger age groups.