PORTLAND — Health officials in the tri-county Portland metro area said Tuesday that “tens of thousands” of frontline health care workers have not received the COVID-19 vaccine and that it will likely take weeks before most do.
One solution is allocating more doses of the vaccine to the populated area, said Jessica Guernsey, the Multnomah County public health director. Guernsey said officials have spoken to the Oregon Health Authority about this option and have not received “an outright denial.”
“There really is no easy way to say this, right now we are in a situation in the metro area where we have more people eligible for the vaccine than we actually have vaccine in the metro area,” Guernsey said. “This is an incredibly frustrating situation.”
Health leaders in Multnomah, Washington and Clackamas counties announced Tuesday the online regional COVID-19 Phase 1A vaccination sign-up survey, that was launched Jan. 12, is now closed because of the limited vaccine supply.
The survey was intended to link healthcare providers and others in Phase 1A to appointment slots with the health systems as vaccines became available.
Health officials said that while 60,000 eligible people applied for vaccines through the survey, only 11,000 were sent invitations to be vaccinated.
The announcement came a day after teachers in Oregon have begun being vaccinated. Seniors 80 and older will be eligible the week of Feb. 7. In the weeks that follow, Oregon seniors in younger age groups will become eligible.
Health officials say that 1A health care workers will be vaccinated at the same time as teachers, however state officials decide the weekly amount of vaccine doses allocated toward each eligible group.
This week, the metro area received a total of 15,000 vaccines. Out of that, the state earmarked 12,000 doses for educators and 3,000 for Phase 1A.
Tri-county area health officials have described the vaccine situation as complex and frustrating — reiterating that the metro area is unlike the rest of the state, as it home to Oregon’s three most populous counties and many of the state’s large hospitals.
While metro area health officials said allocating more doses to the tri-counties would help, they also noted that there are people across the state waiting and in need of the vaccine.
“I think with the scarce resource and this scenario, we are trying to be mindful of not falling into urban versus rural or teachers versus grandparents,” Vines said. “A lot of people want and deserve this vaccine. They deserve to get it in a smooth and timely way. We are working really hard within the constraints to make that happen.”
On Tuesday Gov. Kate Brown also announced that some indoor activities, such as gyms and movie theaters, in Oregon can reopen with a limited capacity beginning Friday.
However, the new modifications do not apply to indoor dining, which has been banned for more than two months in counties labeled as Extreme Risk because of the coroanvirus pandemic, including Multnomah — the state’s most populous county and home to Portland.
“The science has shown us that outdoor activities are safer than indoor activities when it comes to the spread of COVID-19, which is why we have clearly delineated guidance between indoor and outdoor activities,” Brown said in a statement Tuesday.
The new modifications allows for a maximum of six people indoors at facilities over 500 square feet. The business must follow cleaning protocols, and people will be required to social distance and wear a facemask. For facilities smaller than 500 square feet, the modified guidance allows for one-to-one customer experiences, such as personal training.
In addition, the governor announced updates to county risk levels.
Beginning Friday, Grant County will move into the Moderate Risk level and Tillamook and Curry counties will move into the Lower Risk level. Twenty-five counties remain in Extreme Risk.
The Oregon Health Authority re-examines and adjusts county risk levels every two weeks. The next announcement will be made Feb. 9.
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