On Friday, Gov. Kate Brown placed Lane County on the state’s COVID-19 watch list for the first time following a two-week increase in cases in the county.
Presence on the watch list does not indicate that the county is being moved back a phase in reopening, according to the state’s website. The watch list is intended to help policymakers and COVID-19 response teams to prioritize resources and assistance to counties that are seeing the broadest spread of COVID-19.
The assistance offered to a particular county depends on the assessment of its needs, often including epidemiological assistance and staffing support.
Benton, Clatsop, Malheur and Umatilla counties are also currently on the list.
Brown stated that the Oregon Health Authority (OHA) is working with Lane County Public Health to address the county's increase in community spread, which she attributed to in part to social gatherings.
"There is no question that the spread of COVID-19 in Lane County is connected – to a degree – to student social activities,” said Brown. “Social gatherings, like off-campus parties, are incredibly dangerous and spread this disease. Let me be clear, though: it will take the entire county working together to bring these COVID-19 numbers under control. Once COVID-19 is spreading in the community, small family get-togethers can also lead to dozens of infections."
The University of Oregon had reported 270 cases for the month of October alone when the governor’s office made its announcement. As of Friday, the university had seen 421 total cases since June 1.
Counties are placed on the watch list when there is a “sporadic case” rate of 50 or more per 100,000 in the preceding two weeks and the county has more than 5 sporadic cases in the same timeframe.
Sporadic cases are those which cannot be traced to a source, indicating community spread.
According to watch list data from OHA in the two-week period between Sept. 27 and Oct. 10, Lane County saw a sporadic case rate of 63.6 per 100,000 and a sporadic case count of 241, the latter an increase of 76 cases since the previous two-week measurement.
Counties must remain on the watch list for a minimum of three weeks and until the sporadic cases drop below the watch list standard.
"The watch list signifies caution,” Brown said. “When we are able to address community spread early on, the more likely we are to be successful in curbing that spread. While OHA offers support and resources to help county officials prevent further case spikes, it remains up to all community members to do their part.”
Cottage Grove Mayor Jeff Gowing likewise urged local residents to follow state guidelines to curb the virus’ spread.
“I think we’re doing a very good job in Cottage Grove,” he said. “But the reality is, the rest of the county impacts us and this is what’s coming down beyond our control. So we want to make sure to do our part if nothing else.”
Meanwhile, the Douglas County COVID-19 Response Team similarly appealed to the county’s residents this week to help curtail the spread in light of recent increased metrics.
Though Douglas County has had a relatively low case rate during the pandemic and is still far from being considered for the watch list, there has been a marked increase since mid-September, including in sporadic case count.
In the response team’s press release, Douglas County Public Health Officer Dr. Bob Dannenhoffer states that almost all the county’s cases were from different sources and he anticipates numbers to remain high and possibly increase through the rest of the fall season as a vaccine is not likely to emerge soon.
“It appears that Dr. Redfield and Dr. Fauci are likely correct that the vaccine will not be available for wide use until the second or third quarters of 2021,” he said, referring to the directors of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, respectively.
The response team’s news release pointed to an upswing of cases since Labor Day as worrying considering the time of year and warned of severe health, educational and economic impacts should cases continue their upward trend.
“This should be very concerning for everyone as we enter into the busiest social and cold/flu season of the year,” stated the release. “We not only think we have reached a critical juncture with COVID-19 in Douglas County, we know we have. If we do not take action to stop the spread now, the virus could potentially wreak havoc and residents run the risk of seeing these real-life consequences.”
The response team appealed to residents’ individual responsibilities in curtailing the spread and bringing numbers down.
“That means we need each and every one of you to make sound choices, evaluate and change how you interact with others and work on implementing COVID safe activities into your daily lives,” the team said.
The response team issued the following recommendations:
More COVID-related reopening information for the State of Oregon can be found at govstatus.egov.com/reopening-oregon.
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