Through these many months of living with COVID-19, the Philomath School District provided space to the Benton County Health Department to bring walk-in vaccination events to the public. Those first few took place at Philomath High School before they were moved over to Clemens Primary School.

In another sign that we’re finally coming out of this pandemic, those vaccination clinics at schools and the fairgrounds have ended. The health department announced that moving forward, it will support those needing access to the vaccine through direct outreach and targeted events.

My first COVID vaccine occurred at Reser Stadium on the Oregon State University campus. That sure seems like a long time ago now. Follow-up shots occurred during doctor’s appointments.

But is the pandemic truly over? A couple of weeks ago, President Biden’s administration announced that it will end the public health and national emergency declarations on May 11. Illness has been moving around the region over the past several weeks and some folks have returned to masking up in public settings.

Health experts advise folks to keep up on their vaccinations. Benton County Health said the COVID-19 shots are still available in most places where you would normally get a flu shot — medical providers and pharmacies, for example. The county maintains a list of where you can find a shot — visit this online page to see it — and Philomath Pharmacy remains as an option locally. People with medical conditions, age restrictions or seeking a specific vaccine can call 541-766-6120 (weekdays, 9 a.m.-3 p.m.) for additional options.

2. Update on geographic name changes

Since February is Black History Month, it seems appropriate for an update on the geographical name changes going on around Oregon. As I wrote in a blog late last year, the Oregon Geographic Names Board approved the renaming of Negro Creek in Douglas County to Triple Nickles Creek.

A Douglas County ridge has officially been renamed for smokejumper Malvin Brown, who died in 1945 on a jump into the Lemon Butte fire on Umpqua National Forest. (Photo courtesy of the U.S. Army)

The Triple Nickles were the World War II-era airborne infantry unit that served as the subject of a special program during Philomath’s Veterans Day Celebration last year out at the Scout Lodge. The name change is not official just yet with it still pending before the U.S. Board on Geographic Names.

An official with that federal agency reported that there is also a proposal to apply the name “Smokejumper Waterfall” to a falls along the creek. It is currently known as Negro Creek Falls, although the U.S. Board on Geographic Names has no record of that name on federal maps.

A name that was recently approved at the federal level was Malvin Brown Ridge (formerly known as Negro Ridge and also located in Douglas County). Federal topographic maps will be updated during its next revision cycle and it will likely show up on Forest Service visitor maps in the near future.

Brown was a 24-year-old Black smokejumper who died fighting a wildfire on an Umpqua National Forest hillside in the summer of 1945.

3. Fatalities on Benton County roads

The number of fatalities on roads around Benton County increased last year, the sheriff’s office announced. In fact, BCSO said that in 2022, it responded to the most fatalities it’s seen yearly in over two decades.

This crash occurred on Nov. 2, 2022, on Highway 99W near Eureka Road. (Photo provided by Benton County)

Distracted driving, impaired driving and an increase in vehicles on the road are believed to be the main factors for the rise, BCSO says.

And we’re not off to a very promising start in 2023. We’ve seen fatalities already this year — I just wrote about one involving an 18-year-old on Highway 99W that occurred on Friday evening. That one appeared to have involved an impaired driver who was apparently passing others recklessly and crashed into the young man’s car.

Distracted driving is a real thing and the sheriff’s office knows it’s a problem.

“Minimize your distractions and don’t use a handheld device while driving,” BCSO says. “Oregon’s cell phone law prohibits the use of any mobile electronic device by drivers unless you are using a hands-free device.”

And did you know this? It’s a part of the law that I didn’t realize. Said BCSO, “Drivers under 18 are banned from using any kind of mobile electronics, hands-free or not.”

(Brad Fuqua is publisher/editor of the Philomath News. He can be reached at

Brad Fuqua has covered the Philomath area since 2014 as the editor of the now-closed Philomath Express and currently as publisher/editor of the Philomath News. He has worked as a professional journalist since 1988 at daily and weekly newspapers in Nebraska, Kansas, North Dakota, Arizona, Montana and Oregon.