SALEM, Ore. (KTVZ) -- The Oregon Health Authority now says it will no longer provide details about individual cases of people with COVID-19 who have died.
The information in daily OHA releases since the pandemic hit last spring had included the county where the person lived, their age and gender, when they tested positive and when and where they passed away, as well as whether the person had underlying conditions.
Instead, OHA says it will share information on its dashboards about trends, underlying conditions and COVID-19 symptoms those who died had experienced. County tallies also will be updated with newly reported deaths.
The move has sparked some backlash, including among state lawmakers.
State Sen. Tim Knopp, R-Bend, questioned OHA officials on the matter at a virtual budget hearing on Thursday.
"There's a report that OHA had decided to change the way they were going to change the way they talk about or provide information about deaths, as it relates to COVID-19," Knopp said. "So my question is, is that true -- and if it's true, how does less transparency coordinate with the value statements of transparency?"
OHA Director Patrick Allen said that detailing individual deaths on a daily basis consumed a great deal of staff time.
"I think what we're doing is trying to be smart about how we provide good information to Oregonians," Allen said. "We're improving the quality and depth of the information, but doing it in a way that allows our epidemiologists to not spend time vetting press releases and instead spend time trying to figure out how to deal with new variants of the disease or effectiveness of treatments and those kinds of things."
State Rep. Jack Zika, R-Redmond, is also among those troubled by the changes.
"I understand that they think it's too time-consuming, but we are in a pandemic, and information is key," Zika said, voicing his frustration.
"What also troubles me is that in the article that I read, Governor Brown issued a statement saying that she wants them to give out all the information, except for patient privacy," Zika said. "So that would include what they have currently been doing, so I don't know why OHA has decided to do this."
Deschutes County Health Services epidemiologist Dr. Jennifer Faith said the county will begin providing new information on its website.
"Starting today, in our weekly epidemiology report, we do have that cumulative number, but we're also going to providing the specific age breakdowns," she said.
Faith added that she feels the new information provided by OHA is useful.
"“The press releases did just have a sort of general statement about the person did or did not have underlying conditions, and I think this provides more detail,” Faith said.
But the Oregon House GOP leader also voiced sharp criticism in a news release issued late Thursday:
House Republican Leader Urges Governor Brown, OHA to Reverse Decision to Limit COVID-19 Information and Statistics
Salem, Ore - House Republican Leader Christine Drazan (R-Canby) issued the following statement in response to the Oregon Health Authority’s decision to limit the release of critical COVID-19 information.
“Yesterday, the Oregon Health Authority announced suddenly that the agency would no longer publicize key information related to COVID-19 deaths in Oregon. This information has been released daily for months without incident and is critical to allowing the public to understand how and who the virus is impacting.
“Oregonians have been asked to sacrifice so much in so many ways, they deserve access to all relevant available information.
“The decision to suspend access to key information calls into question the Governor’s commitment to transparency and accountability at a time when state-level decisions have made Oregon a national outlier by ignoring CDC guidelines and dismissing a science-based approach to vaccine distribution. In order to maintain trust and preserve transparency, Governor Brown and OHA must reverse yesterday’s decision and commit to providing clear, consistent and timely data in all categories moving forward.”