PENDLETON — Coronavirus cases in Umatilla County are on a steady decline, but the number of cases connected to the Pendleton Round-Up continues to increase.

Data from the Umatilla County Public Health Department and Yellowhawk Tribal Health Center on the Umatilla Indian Reservation show at least 247 cases have been linked to the week-long rodeo.

Cases from the event spread across at least seven counties and two states besides Oregon, health officials reported. But the vast majority of cases — 225 — were among Umatilla County residents, Umatilla County Public Health Director Joe Fiumara said.

Still, after a brief but significant spike in cases following an outbreak tied to the Round-Up, the county, like much of Oregon, has seen cases drop day by day for nearly two weeks, according to data from the Oregon Health Authority.

Umatilla County reported just 27 cases on Friday, Oct. 15, the lowest daily total since mid-July, and county has been averaging roughly 50 new confirmed and presumptive COVID-19 cases daily, according to OHA data. That’s the lowest average in three weeks. It remains possible Umatilla County could have its lowest case count in nearly three months, according to state data and Fiumara.

“Something would have to drastically change for us not to report a pretty good decline in cases,” Fiumara said. “It’s kind of the best case scenario for us coming off the spike from the Round-Up.”

The county is fortunate the spike did not continue for any longer than it did, Fiumara noted, even though at least one regional hospital has reported a sharp spike in patients hospitalized with the virus since the outbreak.

“We were really hopeful that, if people stayed home and didn’t spread these cases around, that we would see a quick drop,” Fiumara said. “And it looks like we’re seeing that, which is very good.”

For nearly three consecutive months, the county saw at least 350 cases each week as hospitals were slammed with patients. Since May 1, 90% of patients hospitalized with COVID-19 in Umatilla County have been unvaccinated, according to data from the county health department.

And since July, at least 48 Umatilla County residents who contracted the virus have died, making the delta variant surge the deadliest and most infectious that the county has ever seen.

“Unfortunately, we are still getting death reports,” Fiumara said. “Not that I can say they’re directly from Round-Up, but they do seem to be from the spike in cases. And that is unfortunate, but I don’t know if it was unforeseen.”

To curb the rapid spread of infection tied to events across the region, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee announced Oct. 14 that events must require proof of vaccination or a recent negative coronavirus test from attendees. The rule applies to indoor events exceeding 1,000 people and outdoor events exceeding 10,000.

No such requirement exists in Oregon.

Health officials have reported that some Round-Up attendees came to the rodeo with COVID-19 symptoms and later tested positive. And despite low vaccination rates across Eastern Oregon, the Round-Up did not require a negative COVID-19 test or proof of vaccination.

Fiumara said if a requirement had been in place, some ill attendees may have thought twice before coming to an event that attracts tens of thousands of people. But he wouldn’t go so far as to say that a requirement similar to Washington’s should be in place.

“I’m really torn,” Fiumara said. “I’m not a big mandate fan. I do understand that these measures work, but I’m in that camp where I want people to choose those options, and I don’t know how well compliance would have gone if it would have been enforced with Round-Up.”

Fiumara said he doesn’t believe there are enough people ready for strict requirements like Washington’s to be implemented.

“I’m not saying these measures don’t work, but I’m not taking the position that we should have done them necessarily,” he said, adding, “I don’t want to shoot ourselves in the foot moving forward.”

Since the pandemic started, Umatilla County has reported 14,240 confirmed or presumptive coronavirus cases. Nearly 18% of the county’s population has contracted the virus, and 144 residents have died, according to county health data.

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Reporter primarily covering government and public safety in Umatilla and Morrow County.

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