PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — The Oregon Health Authority held a press conference to give updates on the coronavirus Monday afternoon. It was the first of what will now be biweekly meetings on the spread of COVID-19 in the state.
Those OHA updates will be given every Monday and Thursday, generally in the afternoon. During Monday’s briefing, Dr. Dean Sidelinger, public health officer with the OHA, ran through a summary of the cases in Oregon: there are 14 positive cases across six counties.
“We do think that even though we are reporting 14 cases, that this disease is much more widespread in our community,” said Sidelinger. “Many of these cases were identified as potential community transmission—meaning that we can’t trace it back to an individual or to a situation where they were put at risk.”
The OHA put an emphasis on preventative measures that the public can take to help slow the spread of the coronavirus. That guidance included staying home if you’re sick, thorough and frequent handwashing, and sanitizing commonly touched surfaces.
Dr. Jennifer Vines, lead health officer for the tri-county area with Multnomah County Public Health, said that, with no vaccine or treatment available, their top two priorities are slowing the spread of the virus to help health care facilities running and to protect the older population and medically vulnerable, “because it is increasingly clear that these individuals are at high risk of serious complications and death.”
“We expect more testing to come online in the days and weeks ahead, and so we expect for more cases to be confirmed,” said Vines. “This information will start to tell us truly how widespread the virus is and what the picture is.”
Vines then drew a quick graph to contextualize Oregon’s outbreak in the bigger picture of how a hypothetical pandemic trends from a public health perspective. For the hypothetical pandemic graph that charts the number of cases over time, Vines drew a sharp peak in red that represents the “worst-case scenario” with the top tier of cases requiring intensive medical care. Then a flatter, gray line that represents health officer’s efforts to curb the spread of the virus, in reference to their current priorities Vines mentioned at the briefing.
“What we’re trying to do in public health is make this [graph] look more like that, so we flatten the curve, so that as people in that top tier who need access to our health systems, that there is room for them, there is staff for them, and they get the life-saving care that they need,” explained Vines. “We think—again, we’re not sure because we don’t know how widespread the virus is—we think we’re early on this curve. And this is where things like public health follow up can help.”
Watch the full OHA briefing:
On Sunday, the OHA announced seven new presumptive cases of COVID-19 as Governor Kate Brown declared a State of Emergency. The state’s total number of confirmed COVID-19 cases is up to 14. Those include one in Douglas County, one in Marion County, and five in Washington County. Oregon has now seen cases in people without high-risk exposures, meaning the virus has spread in communities.
The OHA also announced the actions it is taking to slow the spread and protect Oregonians, including school-based measures. Currently, OHA recommends against closing schools where no confirmed cases are present. They also advise schools to first consider all alternatives before closing if a confirmed case is, in fact, detected.
Local public schools
Estacada schools were closed to students on Monday, March 9, for a district-mandated “staff development day.” Teachers and school employees will be on campus to prepare for an extended school closure if the district is affected by the coronavirus in the future.
While there are no known cases of the new virus connected to anyone within the Estacada School District, officials decided to close schools for the day to come up with a preemptive plan. One of the things staff will discuss is how to continue students’ education through remote learning.
“At this time, it is precautionary,” said Maggie Kelly with the Estacada School District. “We have no cases in our community, but feel like it is our obligation and responsibility to continue to provide high levels of learning and the best way to do this is to provide this in case there are cases that come into our community.”
In the event that schools would have to resort to virtual learning, students would be required to check in with their teachers daily through email, Facetime, or by phone. There will also be printed documents available for students who do not have access to the internet at home.
For now, the students will have to bring their school-issued Chromebooks back and forth to school. Educators are making sure those laptops are sterilized before returning them to students on Tuesday. Elementary school students will also be sent home with packets of printed materials. Estacada Schools had already gone through some of this virtual education planning earlier this year to prepare for snow days, but for now, the online classroom curriculum is only for a week.
All schools in the Hillsboro School District are open on Monday after a middle school student tested positive for the virus over the weekend, citing the OHA’s advice to stay open.