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Rise in COVID-19 cases bring ‘yellow light’; downtown Bend sees crowds

(Update: Adding video, Deschutes County health official comments; downtown Bend busy, many not wearing masks)

PORTLAND, Ore. (KTVZ) – Oregon Gov. Kate Brown and state health officials outlined Friday the data and reasoning behind a one-week pause in processing counties’ reopening plans, a “statewide yellow light” to assess what’s behind a recent rise in the number of cases and hospitalizations.

“I know how frustrating it is to move slowly,” she told reporters in a livestreamed news conference. “We all wish this reopening could move faster. … But my job is to make tough decisions, even when they are unpopular. And when it comes to the health and safety of Oregonians, the buck stops here.”

While Deschutes County has only reported three new cases in the last five days, Morgan Emerson with Deschutes County Health Services said there's still cause for concern, even though the state is keeping more relaxed Phase 2 guidelines in place for most Oregon counties, at least for now.

“While we haven’t seen (a major rise) here, it’s important for us to be paying attention to that, and not becoming complacent locally," Emerson said.

Bend's downtown was packed Friday afternoon. A couple of locals told NewsChannel 21's Jordan Williams they are expecting a spike in cases.

“I would expect some raise or a spike (in cases),” Bend resident john Cleveland said.

“If there’s more people out, the probability is there will be higher cases," Bend resident Jessica Klinger added.

Whatever the county’s phase, Brown said the recent rise in cases and hospitalizations serve as “a clear reminder we need to double down on the simple but effective precautions we all can take to slow the spread” of the virus, from face covering and physical distancing to avoiding large gatherings and hand-washing, covering coughs and “please, please, please: Stay home if you’re sick.”

Oregon Health Authority Director Pat Allen said, “We’re seeing enough signs of concern, we need to slow down,” with a 75 percent rise in cases last week and Thursday’s record of 178 cases.

More testing is a key factor in the rise in case numbers, Allen noted. But while Oregon’s infection rate remains low, it jumped last week from 1.9 to 3 percent – still well below the national level, but not the flat or declining rates they’d hoped to see.

On the positive side, Emergency Department visits related to COVID-19 symptoms are still below 1 percent, where they’ve been for several weeks, and 95 percent of cases result in contact tracing within 24 hours. “Most cases are being linked to a known source,” Allen said, with 22 percent that can’t be traced to a prior source.

Major outbreaks, like last week’s at Pacific Seafoods in Newport, have been a factor as well.

“It’s still not clear if large protests have spread coronavirus,” Allen said, adding that more information is expected in coming days as contact tracers follow up on recent cases.

“Today’s pause is a reminder, not a rollback,” Allen said.

His biggest fear, he said, is that people will go back to doing activities as they did before the pandemic began, without continuing the public health safety precautions.

“We can do normal, things, but not the way we did them before,” he said. “These are not just a good idea – theye are what we have to do.”

Dr. Dean Sidelinger, state epidemiologist, said several counties have had “warning signs,” such as more hospitalizations and a higher positive test percentage. In Multnomah County, he said, 40 percent of last week’s cases could not be traced to a known source.

Various projections, from optimistic to pessimistic, have been developed, Sidelinger said, with the worst-case scenario leading to “hundreds and hundreds more (cases) each and every day. We don’t see evidence of that emerging, but we want to prevent that.”

Asked by a reporter if there have been any cases to this point tied to the large protests in recent weeks, Sidelinger said they are working with local public health officials and are aware “some people may be reluctant to share that with investigators. But to this date, we don’t have any evidence that anyone tested positive” who attended the protests.

As of Thursday, St. Charles Bend had two COVID-19 patients, a spokeswoman said. Earlier in the week, they had four, which St. Charles Health System President and CEO Joe Sluka said was the highest count since mid-April.

After a record 178 COVID-19 cases were reported in Oregon on Thursday and nearly 800 in the past week, Gov. Kate Brown announced late Thursday a one-week statewide pause in pending county reopening requests.

Here's the full news release issued by Brown:

Governor Kate Brown Announces One-Week Statewide Pause on Pending County Applications for Reopening

Cites increase in COVID-19 cases in both rural and urban communities

(Salem, OR) — Governor Kate Brown issued the following statement today on the reopening process in Oregon:

“When we began reopening nearly a month ago, I was clear that COVID-19 case counts would rise. We now see that happening in several parts of the state, both urban areas and rural communities.

“As I have said before, reopening comes with real risk. As we navigate the reopening, we are carefully monitoring the capacity of our public health system to respond to COVID-19 cases without becoming overwhelmed.

“The noticeable increase in COVID-19 infections in Oregon over the past week is cause for concern.

“In order to ensure that the virus is not spreading too quickly, I am putting all county applications for further reopening on hold for seven days. This is essentially a statewide 'yellow light.' It is time to press pause for one week before any further reopening.

“This one-week pause will give public health experts time to assess what factors are driving the spread of the virus and determine if we need to adjust our approach to reopening. I will work with doctors and public health experts to determine whether to lift this pause or extend it or make other adjustments.

“I want to remind the public that there are very simple precautions each of us should take to reduce the spread of the disease: Avoid large gatherings. Wear a face covering. Stay six feet apart. Wash your hands, cover your cough and stay home when you are sick.”

The Governor’s Office this week received four county applications for reopening. Multnomah County’s application to enter Phase 1 has been put on hold for one week. Applications from Hood River, Marion and Polk counties to enter Phase 2 have been put on hold for one week.

In analyzing COVID-19 case data across the state, public health experts at the Oregon Health Authority highlighted several areas of concern, including increased COVID-19 case numbers in both urban and rural communities.

  • Cases of COVID-19 are increasing across Oregon, affecting both urban and rural areas. Hospitalizations are also beginning to increase in Oregon.
  • Multnomah County has seen an increase in residents admitted to the hospital over the last two weeks. The percent of tests that are positive is going up, in the face of increased testing. Over 40% of the new cases in the last week have not been traced to a source.
  • Hood River County has seen an increase in new cases over the last week and is managing several simultaneous workplace outbreaks.
  • Marion County has seen an almost 40% increase in cases over the last week, and new hospital admissions COVID-19 for county residents has increased over the last two weeks.
  • Polk County has seen an increase in cases over the last week and is managing a work site outbreak.

Current status of reopening and all guidelines are available at coronavirus.oregon.gov. Currently there are:

  • Twenty-nine counties in Phase 2.
  • Three counties in Phase 1 that have applied for Phase 2 (Hood River, Marion and Polk); these applications are being put on hold for one week.
  • Three counties in Phase 1 that have not yet applied for Phase 2 (Clackamas, Lincoln, and Washington)
  • Multnomah County is in baseline status. County leaders have applied for Phase 1, application is being put on hold

Governor Brown will hold a press availability tomorrow, Friday, at 9 a.m. to discuss the statewide pause on reopening. She will be joined by representatives from the Oregon Health Authority.

A live stream will be available for the public that will be posted to the Governor's social media pages.


Earlier story:

PORTLAND, Ore. (KTVZ) — COVID-19 has claimed two more lives in Oregon, raising the state’s death toll to 171, along with 178 new cases, a record for a single day since the pandemic began, the Oregon Health Authority reported Thursday.

OHA reported 178 new confirmed and presumptive cases of COVID-19 as of 12:01 a.m. Thursday, bringing the state total to 5,237, along with 156,567 negative test results.

The new cases are in the following counties: Clackamas (47), Clatsop (1), Crook (2), Deschutes (1), Hood River (1), Jefferson (3), Lake (2), Lane (3), Lincoln (9), Marion (34), Multnomah (43), Polk (4), Umatilla (4), Union (1), Wallowa (1), Wasco (1), Washington (15), Yamhill (6).

Deschutes County now has had 135 COVID-19 cases and 6,931 negative test results. Crook County has had eight cases and 721 negative test results. Jefferson County has had 67 cases and 1,299 negative test results.

That includes the 50 cases reported on the Warm Springs Indian Reservation. This week's COVID-19 weekly report listed High Lookee Lodge, an assisted living facility in Warm Springs as having reported an outbreak on May 26 that has resulted in 15 positive cases.

Oregon’s 170th COVID-19 death is an 84-year-old woman in Clackamas County who tested positive on June 6 and died on June 9. The location of her death is unknown at this time. She had underlying medical conditions.

Oregon’s 171st COVID-19 death is a 66-year-old man in Yamhill County who tested positive on June 3 and died on June 10 at Willamette Valley Medical Center. He had underlying medical conditions.

Thursday’s COVID-19 case count marked the highest daily count since the onset of the pandemic in Oregon. There have been 770 new cases reported in the past week.

"The reasons for the higher numbers are tied to several factors, including widespread availability of testing, increased contact tracing and active monitoring of close contacts of cases," OHA said. "Workplace outbreaks are another source of the high number."

The agency added, "Higher case counts serve as a reminder that Oregonians need to continue to maintain physical distancing, wear face coverings where physical distancing cannot be maintained and follow good hand hygiene.

Note: One case previously reported in Jackson County was determined not to be an Oregon resident; the county case count has been appropriately adjusted.

OHA Announces Funding Opportunity for Community Based Organizations

OHA has announced funding opportunities for Community Based Organizations (CBOs) throughout the State of Oregon to support three areas of work as part of the COVID-19 response.

CBOs are central to the success of this work to integrate methods, tactics and strategies that are most responsive to the needs of people of color, people with disabilities, immigrant and refugee communities, Tribes, Migrant and Seasonal Farm Workers and LGBTQIA+ communities.

The specific work areas include community engagement, education, and outreach; contact tracing; and social services and wraparound supports.

OHA is committed to engaging with CBOs and the communities they serve to ensure all members of our community receive information, services and resources in the most responsive way.

To learn more, or get details on information sessions in English and Spanish, please visit https://www.oregon.gov/oha/ERD/Pages/COVID-19-Funding-Opportunity.aspx.


Stay informed about COVID-19:

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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Jordan Williams

Jordan Williams is a multimedia journalist for NewsChannel 21. Learn more about Jordan here.

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