Oregon recorded 457 new cases of COVID-19 Friday, the highest single-day total since the pandemic began.
And that record-setting day followed Thursday’s report of 392 new Oregon cases.
The large, rising number reflects a weeks-long trend that Oregon Health Authority Director Patrick Allen called worrying.
“For several weeks we were successful in reducing cases of COVID-19. The number of new cases reported weekly were in steady decline,” Allen said. “But this surge in cases is an indication of how fragile our progress against the virus is.”
Allen put the blame squarely on individual actions, and called on Oregonians to do more.
“Oregon was stemming the tide by wearing face coverings, staying physically distant, and rethinking our gatherings,” Allen said. “That isn’t enough.”
Allen’s comments came during the first OHA COVID-19 briefing in three weeks. The weekly press events were put on hold while the state focused on controlling devastating wildfires that blew up on Labor Day.
While the briefings were paused, transmissions of the coronavirus continued. The percentage of tests coming back positive is rising, too. And that’s all while COVID-19 testing events were suspended because of wildfires. And it coincided with a period when unhealthy-to-hazardous air quality was forcing people to stay inside and minimize interactions with others from outside their own households.
Many of the new cases were found through move-in testing at colleges and universities, spread in on-campus parties or at fraternity and sorority events. Other cases resulted from transmissions at workplace gatherings. But those incidents can’t account for the entire increase in cases, State Epidemiologist Dr. Dean Sidelinger said. There is significant community transmission going on, as well.
“We’re seeing cases across the Portland metro area and other counties. That’s why we can’t attribute it to one thing that we need to change,” Sidelinger said.
One outbreak was even linked to a prayer and sewing circle.
“We continue to see cases where seemingly innocuous activities, that we would not have thought about twice in the past, are fueling outbreaks,” Sidelinger said. “That’s why we ask every Oregonian to take simple steps to protect themselves.”
Sidelinger wants Oregonians to follow state guidelines and limit the size of gatherings, have those gatherings outdoors, to wear face coverings, and to practice physical distancing.
When asked if the state would take additional actions to curb further spread, since those guidelines were already in place, Allen replied: “We have really tried to focus our responses and actions on the things we think are most directly reported to the spread of disease.”
That means changing how people across the state act. He said gatherings indoors, where people eat food and remove masks within rooms with potentially poor air circulation are the biggest cause of concern.
Flu Emerges In Oregon
Oregon saw its first reported case of the flu this season.
Health officials in Oregon and across the country have worried about winter, when respiratory viruses peak even when there isn’t a pandemic. An influenza outbreak could put additional stress on hospitals and health resources, like beds, oxygen, personal protective equipment and ventilators.
There are other reasons to get a flu shot, too. They include avoiding inaccurate test results and more severe health impacts.
A study published in The Journal of Medical Virology found just over half of 307 COVID-19 patients identified at a hospital in Wuhan, China, during the early days of the outbreak also had strains of flu that appeared to either make it harder to get a positive COVID-19 test or was associated with worse health outcomes. Because the study only looked at hospitalized patients, they couldn’t tell if having one disease made you more prone to the other. But past research has shown that being infected with one severe respiratory virus leaves you vulnerable to others.
“It’s important every year to get your flu shot,” Sidelinger said. “But it’s more important this year than the others.”
New $45 Million in Grants For Underserved Communities
The Oregon Health Authority has begun to distribute grants that target the needs of the communities they serve. The $45 million in grants will be distributed to programs run by over 206 community groups and tribal governments. The CARES Act funded grant money was prioritized for programs that serve tribal communities and communities of color, which have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19.
“The grants focus resources on … programs that will address health and economic disparities, food insecurity and housing, and violence prevention among many other needs in our state,” said Leeann Johnson, OHA’s director of the Office Equity and Inclusion.
Johnson called the program “a glimmer of hope on this somber day.”
These programs are run by established organizations that are trusted by their community and serve those community’s needs.
“One organization we work with serves the Latino, Latina, and Latinx communities and learned that people in that community did not have monitors or face masks,” Johnson said.
Others are trying to address the technological barriers that prevent many in those communities from connecting with health-care providers through the internet, apps on mobile devices, or other forms of telemedicine.
Other organizations are providing wage relief and child-care support. One organization is providing business consulting. Another grant recipient helps people living in multi-generational homes who are not able to quarantine properly after a COVID-19 diagnosis.
Johnson’s OHA program is also supporting community groups that provide motel vouchers and what she called “culturally and linguistically appropriate services” for people experiencing domestic violence, child abuse, or mental health issues.
“We know that safety and violence prevention are important issues that lead to health inequities,” Johnson said.
OHA Launches Mental Health Resources
The Oregon Health Authority announced the creation of a new emotional support hotline, the Safe and Strong Lifeline. It was co-created by Lines for Life, an organization that operates a free mental health crisis hotline.
“We understand and acknowledge that Oregonians are under tremendous stress,” OHA Director Patrick Allen said. “The pandemic, the wildfires, the struggles of kids and teachers adjusting to online learning are overwhelming right now.”
The hotline number is 1-800-923-4357. Additional online resources are available at safestrongoregon.org.
This story was first published by Oregon Public Broadcasting and is posted here through a content sharing agreement among Northwest media outlets.