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Delta Variant Highlights Urban-Rural Health Divide

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The era of mass vaccination clinics is over in Oregon, but the pandemic is not yet in the rearview mirror. That’s especially true in rural corners of the state. Low vaccination rates — and the appearance of the delta variant — have prompted public health officials to pivot their strategy for getting the state vaccinated.

More than 70% of Oregon adults have had at least one shot of a COVID-19 vaccine according to the Oregon Health Authority. But in less populated parts of the state, vaccination rates are significantly lower: while Multnomah and Hood River counties report vaccination rates of 74%, Umatilla and Grant county have a 42% vaccination rate, and Malheur’s is 37%.

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Earlier this month, the B.1.617.2 mutation of coronavirus — nicknamed the delta variant— arrived in Umatilla County, deepening concern about lagging vaccination rates in rural Oregon. The variant is more communicable than previous incarnations, makes up 83% of all current U.S. cases — not just new cases — and has been labeled a “variant of concern” by the Center for Disease Control.

A February report released by the American Hotel and Lodging Association showed that nearly 10,000 jobs were lost in the hotel industry. An analysis from the Oregon Restaurant and Lodging association projected losses of $240 billion in 2020.

In addition to COVID-19 restrictions, several media outlets predicted Portland’s image as a tourist destination would be tarnished by civil unrest accompanying the city’s ongoing Black Lives Matter protests. For the moment, these fears appear to have been unfounded. Data from the Port of Portland shows air travel to the city more than doubled in May, compared to last year.

The Oregon Coast is showing signs of recovery as well.

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