PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — The Oregon Health Authority has started releasing data showing which ZIP codes people being treated for coronavirus live in, but some county health officials caution the data does not paint a full picture.
Data shows infections are few and far between, not only in rural counties but also in Portland’s central neighborhoods as well as certain cities including Lake Oswego and West Linn. Some suburbs aren’t faring as well, notably Woodburn, which has been seeing the highest concentration of cases in the state.
The first confirmed case of COVID-19 in Marion County was a resident of Woodburn, according to that county’s health and human services department. About half of the cases in Marion County are associated with a cluster, outbreak or household transmission. The others are considered “community acquired.”
Health officials in Marion County say the ZIP code data has helped them understand where they need to strengthen their messaging.
“With the information, we have been able to engage city leaders, community partners, and proactive residents in sharing critical information about COVID-19 and the importance of social distancing,” the county wrote in a statement to KOIN 6 News.
However, health officials also worry the data can be misleading.
“The data represents where an individual resides, not necessarily where disease was acquired, which at this time, may lead to false confidence in areas with fewer recorded cases, and unfounded fears of areas with more cases,” Multnomah County Public Health Director Public Health Director Rachael Banks wrote. “The zip code data is based on tests and where there were tests, it’s cumulative and we’ve been building testing capacity but earlier on you know we didn’t have the capacity and it was only folks who ended up in the hospital that were being tested, so the data doesn’t convey what we know, that there’s more COVID19 in the community, there’s more that wasn’t captured.”
When Clark County, Washington released ZIP code data in April, the county’s public health director expressed similar concerns and said he did not consider the high concentration areas to be “hot spots” for coronavirus.
According to Washington County health officials, releasing the ZIP code information is not helpful in stopping the spread of COVID 19, and could in fact further stigmatize marginalized people.
“Nearly half of our positive cases are among our Latinx community, although only 16.5% of our residents identify as Latinx,” a spokesperson for Washington County Public Health wrote in an email. “Many of these people are essential workers and don’t have the privilege of working from home.”
Some high concentrations are also tied to large outbreaks at nursing homes and senior living facilities. For example, Healthcare at Foster Creek accounts for 117 of the 159 total cases in the 97236 ZIP code. The southeast Portland nursing home has now had its license suspended. Cornerstone Care Options accounts for a further 16 cases in that neighborhood.
Editor’s note: To protect patients’ privacy, OHA said it combined data in ZIP codes with populations less than 1,000. If there are fewer than 10 cases in one ZIP code, the health agency is reporting 1-9.