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County officials say it's time to end shut-down


May 6, 2020

Linn County commissioners are hoping that Linn County will be among the first counties to begin reopening later this month, while Gov. Kate Brown on Friday called for more testing, contact tracing and isolation of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 to begin the process of reopening Oregon.

The commissioners sent a letter Friday evening with their plan to reopen Linn County, which like the rest of the state, has been under a stay-at-home order by the governor since March 23. The order shut down businesses while requiring other businesses, like restaurants, to shift to delivery or take-out service.

A draft of a plan from the governor’s office provided to Linn County on May 1 outlined seven prerequisites for reopening.

In counties with fewer than five cases, the percentage of emergency department visits for COVID-19-like illnesses must be less than the historic average for flu at the same time of year, and hospital admission data for COVID-19 must demonstrate a 14-day decline.

Regions must be capable of testing at least 30 people per 10,000 per week, with a strategy that prioritizes symptomatic persons and all people in congregate settings where there is a positive test. Linn County’s region also includes Yamhill, Polk, Lincoln, Benton and Marion counties.

Counties must have a minimum of 15 contact tracers for 100,000 people, and counties must be prepared to trace 95 percent of all cases within 24 hours.

Counties must have hotel rooms available for those who test positive for COVID-19 and cannot self-isolate.

Each business sector will be required to adhere to statewide guidelines to protect employees and consumers, implementing process that lower risk of infection in the business.

Regions must be able to accommodate a 20-percent increase in suspected or confirmed COVID-19 hospitalizations compared to the time the stay-at-home home order was issued.

All large hospitals in each region must demonstrate a 30-day supply of personal protective equipment. Rural hospitals must have a 14-day supply. Counties also must attest to a sufficient supply of PPE for first responders.

Brown held a press conference Friday morning about the state’s testing strategy and possibly reopening some counties by May 15.

“I know it was just six weeks ago, but it feels much longer than that,” Brown said. “Oregonians have taken extraordinary actions to keep each other safe during this pandemic. We’ve all felt the difficult repercussions of those actions.

“As we look to reopen Oregon, it’s critical we use science and data to ensure we can can safely take steps forward. Public health experts agree that there are key steps to safely reopening. At the top of that list is a thorough strategy to test, trace and isolate the virus.”

Testing allows the state to diagnose who is sick and to see where the virus may be hiding, Brown said. The state’s testing strategy includes three goals.

First, testing should be available for any Oregonian showing symptoms of the coronavirus, Brown said. Second, testing must be available for individuals in vulnerable group-living situations where COVID-19 is suspected, including nursing homes, prisons and housing for farm workers. Third, the state needs ongoing widespread randomized testing to determine if and where the disease is hiding within the state.

Brown said she has met with the CEOs of six hospital systems – Providence, Legacy, Kaiser, Asante, St. Charles and Oregon Health Sciences University. They will function as a single statewide system, working in partnership with smaller hospitals to ensure sufficient capacity to meet the first two goals.

In partnership with OHSU, the state also will begin statewide randomized testing in a program called “Be the Key,” Brown said.

“I ask you to heed the call. We are all in this together, and together we can be the key to beating this disease.”

The program ultimately will enroll 100,000 persons, Brown said. Participation is voluntary.

Invitations will go out to random persons beginning on May 11, said Dr. Danny Jacobs, president of OHSU.

The tests will be for the virus, PCR tests, rather than antibodies, serology tests, said Dr. David Bangsberg, dean of the School of Public Health at OHSU and Portland State University.

In addition to testing, contact tracing is necessary to let people know if they’ve been exposed to the virus, Brown said. The state will staff every region of the state, training at least 600 people, including community health workers to build out a statewide team of professionals.

With testing and contact tracing in place, she said, then Oregon can begin the process of reopening.

“Make no mistake,” Brown said. “Physical distancing will remain a part of our daily lives until we have the security of a vaccine or treatment for this disease. I want to be clear that we will not be able to open Oregon quickly or in one fell swoop. This process will happen more slowly than any of us would like.

“However in certain parts of the state, we see almost zero cases and few hospitalizations. It is my hope that some counties or regions could have the ability to begin the process of reopening as soon as May 15.”

Brown said her team continues to work with counties across the state on criteria for reopening.

Dr. Dean Sidelinger of the Oregon Health Authority said the process isn’t without risk and that the disease will expand if the state reopens; but these measures will mitigate that.

Jacobs said the state will need to conduct 15,000 tests per week, and Sidelinger said the state already has that capacity, noting that Oregon has taken a cautious approach to testing previously.

At this point, the recommendation is to test anyone with symptoms, Jacobs said.

Linn County Commissioner Will Tucker said the county has spent less than $500,000 to purchase 8,000 tests. Those are intended to be used if and when the county doesn’t have enough tests provided by the state.

So far, the state has provided sufficient testing, Tucker said, and the county has tested everyone at the Veterans’ Home in Lebanon as well as a fire crew that was exposed to the coronavirus. The state sent 250 tests last week to allow the county to test everyone at the National Frozen Foods plant in Albany, where 10 workers had tested positive two weeks ago.

The concept is to test congregate sites, he said, like senior homes, recovery centers and homeless shelters, where it’s difficult to keep people isolated.

Tucker said county officials are watching the governor’s various work groups, which are considering criteria for reopening different business sectors, restaurants, for example.

Already, hospitals and clinics are reopening under guidance from the medical work group, Tucker said.

The work groups will determine recommendations for reopening, and “in our plan, we’re saying we’re going to meet it because we want to be open,” Tucker said. “We want to be among the first. We believe we should be among the first. We share a common desire to get the economy running.”

The county has testing available, and it has trained staff for contact tracing, Tucker said. When Linn County reopens, it has the support it needs to avoid shutting down again a week later.

The county has done exhaustive work tracking COVID-19 patients, Tucker said, and the county can call on the Medical Reserve Corps to be part of tracking teams.

Samaritan Health Services is offering testing for anyone with symptoms, Tucker said. Linn County is fortunate because it has the capacity to do the necessary testing.

“It’s dramatically changed the last few days,” he said. The extra testing had been delayed due to a lack of nose swabs. That has changed, and the county can test at hot spots.

Tucker said there is disagreement between the county and state work groups, so he is uncertain whether Linn County will be able to begin opening quickly.

For example, Linn County would like to be able to open its campgrounds on May 15, Tucker said. All seven counties from Linn to the California border are ready to do that, but the state work group does not have a recommendation for reopening parks. Tucker said he would like to see state parks reopen at least for day use, and he would be willing to clean those parks for the state.


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