Eight Malheur County residents have reportedly died from Covid since early July and the overall positive rate for the county remains high. (CDC file art)

Eight Malheur County residents have died with Covid since early July and more people are hospitalized from the infection even as total cases of the disease appear to be leveling off. 

The Malheur County Health Department reported three new Covid deaths Friday.  

The three reported deaths were all women. One woman was in her 90s, another was in her 80s and the third female was in her 60s.

The new deaths push the total for the county with Covid to nine.

From March 1 to July 1, the county reported just one Covid death. Since July 9, eight people have died from the infection.

Also, Friday the health department reported six people hospitalized who are positive for Covid.

As of Sunday, the health department reported 574 Covid cases in the county, with 3,369 people tested for the virus. Of those, 2,795 tested negative for the infection and 135 people have recovered from the disease.

Covid cases in the county spiked at 173 for the week of July 5 through July 11 but have since dropped.

For the week of July 12 through July 18, 112 new cases were logged. For the week of July 19 through July 25, 86 new cases were reported.

The sudden rise in Covid deaths can be traced to the high number of new cases, infections spreading among the county’s most vulnerable and a lag between when a person tests positive and onset of severe symptoms, said Sarah Poe, Malheur County Health Department director.

“About 20 percent of all cases are considered severe. When you see a huge surge in cases that means you will likely see a percentage that are severe and critical,” said Poe.

Poe said hospitalizations and deaths “seem to trail three to five weeks after a surge in cases.”

“That’s because people don’t always immediately test positive and go into the hospital. This virus has a much longer trajectory. For those people who don’t recover within 10 to 14 days, we’ve seen several of them be sick a lot longer and require hospitalizations weeks after they test positive,” said Poe.

While the modest drop in new cases is good news for area health officials, the county’s overall Covid positive rate – 17% - remains high. The positive rate goal, said Poe, is less than 5%.

“The positive rate is telling us we don’t have enough testing,” said Poe. “Our rates are not good. We are getting national attention. Our rates are worse than Idaho.”

More testing of people with less symptoms, she said, should mean the overall positive percentage rate for the county will likely drop.

Poe said, however, that shortages in testing kits and long turnaround times on test results hamper future efforts to ramp up testing.

“Our concern with increasing rates is the health care system capacity and the risk of outbreaks and death,” said Poe.

Poe said there are “not as many beds available now” in the Treasure Valley as there were six weeks ago to treat Covid patients because of the rising number of new cases.

Poe said four people with Covid were under treatment at Saint Alphonsus Medical Center Ontario last week.

“I think they are losing (hospital) capacity in Nampa and Boise,” said Poe.

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