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State pushes up next phase of vaccine eligibility to April 19

FILE - In this Jan. 13, 2021, file photo, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown visits the Marion County and Salem Health COVID-19 vaccination clinic in Salem, Ore. Brown said Friday, March 5, 2021, that she is issuing an executive order mandating that all public schools provide universal access to in-person learning by the month's end for students up to fifth grade and by mid-April for older students. (Abigail Dollins/Statesman-Journal via AP, Pool, File)

All Oregonians 16 and older will be eligible to receive a COVID-19 vaccine starting April 19, nearly two weeks sooner than the original May 1 date, Gov. Kate Brown announced Tuesday.

“We are locked in a race between vaccine distribution and the rapid spread of COVID-19 variants,” Brown said in a news release. “Today, Oregon will pass the threshold of 2 million vaccine doses administered. And yet, in communities across Oregon, COVID-19 is spreading at concerning rates. We must move as quickly as possible to get more shots in arms.”

The idea of a “race” to get people vaccinated more quickly because of circulating variants has been echoed locally by Dr. Jim Shames, Jackson County medical director. Multiple laboratories across Oregon are studying the mutations, some of which are more infectious.

“The underlying concern that the whole country has is that we do have rising variant (cases),” Shames said Monday.

Brown also announced additional focus on equity for people of color and others who “have been disproportionately hard-hit by this disease.”

“We must reach Oregonians where they are, including those who may not have easy access to health care or the ability to take time off from work,” she said.

Brown’s announcement comes one day after vaccine eligibility expanded to multigenerational households, frontline workers, as defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and age-eligible family members in the same household, and people age 16 to 44 with at least one underlying health condition.

“My office will work closely with the White House to ensure Oregon receives our fair share of federal vaccine supplies, so we can continue with a fast, fair, and equitable vaccine distribution process,” Brown said.

Information on vaccine eligibility and how to sign up for one in Jackson County is online at jacksoncountyor.org/hhs/General/News-Information/covid-19-vaccine-1.

As of Tuesday, 784,476 Oregonians were considered fully vaccinated against COVID-19, and 506,729 people had received one shot in a two-dose regimen, according to Oregon Health Authority data. That equated to 1,998,429 vaccine doses administered, OHA data showed.

Brown also announced the latest risk assessment for Oregon counties. Jackson County will stay at high risk. Josephine and Klamath counties both qualified to move into the extreme risk category under previous metrics but will stay at “high” because of a new statewide trigger that was not met the past two weeks: patients who have the illness occupying 300 hospital beds or more, and a 15% increase in the seven-day average over the past week, according to a news release.

“Counties that meet the criteria for extreme risk but for the statewide trigger will be assigned to high risk,” the release said.

Jackson County Commissioners previously lobbied the governor and state public health officials to rethink how they measure risk. One of the recommendations from the commissioners was to consider hospitalization rates, not just COVID-19 case counts.

The Oregon Health Authority reported 544 new cases of COVID-19 and 33 new deaths from the illness Tuesday, raising the states’s cumulative number of cases to 167,658, the death toll to 2,427. Jackson County reported 33 new cases of the disease, raising the county’s cumulative total to 9,433, according to Jackson County Public Health. Josephine County reported 12, raising the cumulative total to 2,872.

There were 163 Oregonians hospitalized with COVID-19 Tuesday, 14 fewer than Monday, with 42 in intensive care unit beds, unchanged from Monday. There were 19 COVID-19 patients hospitalized in Jackson and Josephine counties, one more than Monday, with six in intensive care unit beds, two more than Monday, according to OHA data.

Reach Mail Tribune web editor Ryan Pfeil at 541-776-4468 or rpfeil@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter at @ryanpfeil. Reporter Vickie Aldous contributed to this report.