A Malheur County health care worker screens people for symptoms at Ontario's Covid testing site on July 1. Free testing is available at the Malheur County Fairgrounds on Wednesday, Oct. 14. (The Enterprise/File)

NYSSA - The Malheur County Health Department is keeping a wary eye on a number of local events – including a recent funeral – where a large group of people were exposed to the Covid virus.

The health department confirmed Covid cases linked to an Oct. 2 funeral at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Nyssa, Nyssa School District and youth activities in Fruitland and Parma and Four Rivers Community School in Ontario.

The health department concern surfaces after the county’s weekly Covid cases dropped to 67 the week of Sept. 27 through Oct. 3. That was the lowest since late June.

“There has been such significant spread across our community that while our numbers are going down the fear is some people are not being tested or following their isolation and quarantine guidelines,” said Sarah Poe, health department director.

Positive Covid cases, though, are back on the rise in Malheur County and recent social activities may be partly to blame.

Most concerning for health officials is the high number of sporadic cases – or cases that cannot be traced to a source.

That means the actual number of positive Covid cases is likely much higher in Malheur County.

On Tuesday, Oct. 13, Malheur County’s sporadic case rate was 209 cases per 100,000 people. The next highest sporadic case rate in the state is Lake County with 70 cases per 100,000 people.

“We are exponentially high,” said Poe.

Recent cases that authorities traced to the social events are “a shift from the way we saw cases for the last several months,” said Poe.

“People are getting more lax and things have opened up more in Idaho, which has driven cases up in Idaho significantly. That has absolutely impacted Malheur County residents,” said Poe.

Poe said so far seven people testing as infected to Covid were linked to the funeral in Nyssa while the Nyssa School District reported eight cases.

However, Poe said more than 100 people may have been exposed to the virus while attending the funeral.

Poe said social gatherings of more than 10 people indoors and 25 outdoors continue to occur which is also fueling the spread of the virus. State and county regulations don’t allow gatherings exceeding those limits.

“We just hear over and over again people think they can still go to large events and not wear a mask as long as they feel fine and that is just not the way this virus works,” said Poe.

Poe said most of the positive Covid cases at the Nyssa School District occurred outside of school grounds.

“Three were infected at work but they were isolated from any student interaction. Outside of that, all of the other cases were not infected at school. That means they are being infected in the community, most likely from not following the guidelines,” said Poe.

Poe said the Covid risks at schools is “so low because the schools are doing such a good job of following precautions.”

Poe urged anyone who attended the Oct. 2 funeral or who participated in Fruitland or Parma youth activities to get a Covid test. She also advised anyone who has been in a social gathering of more than 10 people indoors or more than 25 outdoors where masks and social distancing requirements were absent to get a Covid test. People who attended faith-based gatherings of more than 50 people recently where masks were not worn and social distancing measures not in place should also seek out a Covid test.

Poe said the best thing for residents to do is to visit the Malheur County Fairgrounds Wednesday, Oct. 14, to get a test. The tests are free and residents do not have to have Covid symptoms to participate.

The testing site is open to anyone age 7 and up and runs from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

News tip? Contact reporter Pat Caldwell at pat@malheurenterprise.com or 541-235-1003.  

RELATED COVERAGE:

Nyssa students go back to class despite state report showing staff Covid cases

YOU CAN HELP KEEP LOCAL NEWS FLOWING: Reader support allows the Enterprise to provide in-depth, accurate reporting that otherwise would not get done. Keeping the community well informed is essential. SUBSCRIBE - $5 a month, automatically. DONATE - to provide additional support.