The number of mosquitoes testing positive for West Nile virus in Morrow County is now so high that Greg Barron, the director of the North Morrow Vector Control District, is asking the county court to consider declaring a West Nile emergency.
"We have a situation here," Barron said. "It was one day nothing and the next day, 17 out of 20 pools tested positive."
The district has worked in overdrive since it discovered the first positive pool in early July. In addition to heavy ground fogging, truck spraying and other mosquito control measures, workers aerially sprayed 3,500 acres of the Umatilla National Wildlife Refuge in Irrigon. They also aerially sprayed 2,008 acres near Boardman and roughly 3,000 acres near Irrigon.
Still, workers continue to collect mosquitoes near Irrigon that test positive for the virus. Barron said part of the problem is that the Washington side of the Columbia River near Paterson Slough harbors mosquito breeding grounds over which his district has no control.
"There's nothing I can do about that because I can't cross state lines," he said. "So we got kind of a bad situation on the Washington side, and now ours is turning bleak, too."
An emergency declaration would allow the district to step up its mosquito control measures. For example, although Barron received permission to spray the wildlife refuge, technically it is not allowed unless the mosquito problem in the area reaches a certain critical level, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife's national mosquito control policy. With an emergency declaration, the vector control district can spray again in wildlife areas if it has to.
Another reason for the emergency declaration is funding.?The county is in a better position to ask the state legislature for more mosquito-control funding if West Nile virus is at an emergency level, Barron said.
"When you're earnestly in this fight, it takes a lot of money," he said.
Finally, the emergency declaration will send a message that West Nile is here, and people should take steps to protect themselves. Barron cited the usual list of mosquito precautions: staying inside during early morning and evening and making sure screens are in good repair, for instance.
"We've said all along, it wasn't if West Nile virus is going to come along, it was when, and when is now," he said.
The Morrow County Court will decide whether to declare a West Nile virus emergency today.
A horse was recently euthanized in Umatilla County because of West Nile virus, but so far in Eastern Oregon no person has become ill with the disease.