Press Release: Public Health Focus Shifts To Community Transition, Protecting Seniors From COVID-19

State and local health officials announced today that they are not yet recommending any changes to community members’ daily routines in response to COVID-19, but made clear they will continue working to identify cases and their close contacts as they transition to the reality of community-based transmission. 

The first case in Oregon was identified Feb. 28, followed by a second presumed case, who was a household contact. Like almost all the cases in Washington and California, these Oregon cases were community-acquired in people with no known links to travelers with COVID-19. 

Officials continue to emphasize that the highest risk is to anyone who has had close and prolonged contact with someone who is sick with COVID-19. 

“Because the cases so far in Oregon are not associated with travel, we are preparing for the possibility of increased community-wide transmission,’’ said Dr. Jennifer Vines, lead Health Officer for the Portland Tri-County region, at a press briefing with the regional and state health officers. “Based on limited information our working assumption is that the impact to our community and health systems will be similar to a bad flu season in terms of the number of seriously ill people and the potential strain on health care resources.” 

With that in mind, health officials are preparing guidance and plans for older adults and other vulnerable people who live in congregate settings such as detention facilities, long-term care facilities, shelters, and those who may be unhoused. 

New guidance has been posted at multco.us/covid19, and includes interim guidance for long term care facilities as well as for shelters and other congregate settings. 

In response to a community request, Clackamas County tested several individuals associated with the Lake Oswego School District who had mild symptoms and would not have otherwise met Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines for testing. Each of those tests was negative. 

“We have worked closely with the amazing and dedicated leadership of Lake Oswego School District and Forest Hills Elementary who care deeply about the health and safety of their community, and Public Health fully supports the resumption of normal school activities today,” said Dr. Sarah Present, Clackamas County Health Officer. 

Present spoke at the first of a regular series of briefings scheduled to update the public. Health officials at Thursday’s briefing included not just Vines and Present, but also Dean Sidelinger, State Health Officer and State Epidemiologist, Christina Baumann, Washington County Health Officer. 

For much of the outbreak, federal officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention limited who could be tested for the new virus to certain travelers with symptoms of the virus. 

That criteria changed this week to give state and local authorities discretion on which ill individuals to test. 

Federal officials have authorized only one lab in Oregon to conduct tests for COVID-19. That lab, Oregon’s State Public Health Lab, still has limited capacity. 

The lab was authorized to begin COVID-19 testing Feb. 28, and identified the first Oregon case that same day. 

As the single source of testing in Oregon with federally provided test kits, the lab can test approximately 80 tests (for about 40 people) per day. Because of that constrained capacity, health officials announced today that, until capacity expands and federal officials authorize additional labs, testing will be limited to hospitalized individuals who have symptoms of a serious viral lung infection and are negative for influenza. 

Officials said this temporary criteria will be reassessed as conditions change. But in the meantime, the criteria will help protect health care workers who are caring for sick patients and may need the kind of care that poses an exposure risk to health care workers. 

Local public health officials will continue to follow up on individual confirmed cases and notify people who were exposed to ask them to self-isolate for 14 days on symptom watch. 

But because the cases so far in Oregon have not been associated with travel, they are also preparing guidance and plans for people who may be at greater risk of infection or severe 

disease including older people in our detention facilities, long-term care, shelter and those who are unhoused. 

What should our community do now? 

  • Stay home if you are sick.
  • Only seek health care if you otherwise would.
  • Anyone with mild illness who would not otherwise seek care does not need to be tested for COVID-19 at this time. There is no specific treatment and our recommendation is to stay home until you are completely well for 24 hours.
  • Flu season can last well into the spring. Everyone aged 6 months and older should get a flu shot. It's an excellent way to lower your chances of having a cough illness (and be able to continue working, going to school etc).
  • Employers: Do not require testing or a note for return to work.
  • If you have a loved one who is hospitalized or in a long term care facility, try to limit the number of visitors to adults (over age 12) who are well, and ideally no more than two at a time. We also want to acknowledge that some communities have different practices around the presence of family when someone is ill. We urge those communities to make sure everyone is well who is visiting and we support hospitals to be flexible in their policies depending on the circumstances.
  • Do not discriminate based on a person’s perceived ethnicity or potential for travel to an affected area. 

The health officers said they continue to seriously consider the steps they recommend to curb the spread of this virus. Cancelling events, telecommuting for work and closing schools are serious decisions that cause social disruption and can have far-reaching ripple effects on our kids’ education and our various workforce members. 

For now, regional and state public health officials said COVID-19 is not yet severe enough or widespread enough to proactively implement preventive school closures or cancellation of larger events. They are closely watching what is happening in other states as they consider measures being implemented to minimize spread. 

“If you are well, we are not recommending any changes to people’s daily routines,” Vines said. “And please do not discriminate based on your perception of where someone or from or where you think they may have traveled.” 

Stay informed 

Regional response: Multnomah County updates its site with COVID-19 news and guidance 

Oregon response: The Oregon Health Authority leads the state response. 

United States response: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention leads the U.S. response. 

Global response: The World Health Organization guides the global response. 

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