March 9, 2020

State and local health officers Monday urged all Oregonians to help protect older adults and people with serious health conditions — the community members who are most vulnerable to complications from COVID-19.

“This disease is much more widespread in our community,” said Oregon Health Authority Health Officer and State Epidemiologist Dr. Dean Sidelinger. “As many of these cases were identified as potential community transmission... we continue to ask everyone to take steps to control its spread.”

Oregon Health Authority Health Officer and State Epidemiologist Dr. Dean Sidelinger at a March 9 press briefing on COVID-19

They said everyone should stay home when sick, cover their coughs, wash hands, and clean and disinfect surfaces by properly using standard cleaning products. 

For people vulnerable to complications, they said, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends older adults or anyone who has serious health conditions should stay home as much as possible and avoid large gatherings.

“And no one with illness should visit skilled nursing,” Sidelinger said.

Sidelinger appeared alongside Clackamas County Health Officer Dr. Sarah Present and Dr. Jennifer Vines, lead health officer for the tri-county region.

Situation Update

The Oregon Health Authority on Monday reported 14 people have tested positive for the virus, across six counties. That’s out of 231 tests completed since Feb. 24. An additional 52 tests are pending.

OHA and local public health authorities are conducting contact tracing to identify and isolate any individuals who may have been in close contact with those who have tested positive in the last 14 days. 

Meanwhile, health departments across the state are monitoring 226 people who may have been exposed to the virus. An additional 291 individuals have completed monitoring.

Guidance 

Worldwide, from Tokyo, Japan, to Austin, Texas, events have been canceled in hopes of slowing the spread of COVID-19 among large groups. Portland events have also been canceled, including the NW Youth Careers Expo, which hoped to draw thousands of high schoolers from across the state to the Oregon Convention Center this week.

Dr. Jennifer Vines said health officials, in partnership with state officials and interest groups, are considering refining guidance on large gatherings

For now, she pointed to the CDC’s guidance: Older adults and those with underlying medical conditions should  stay home as much as possible and avoid crowds.

Dr. Jennifer Vines, lead health officer for the Portland Metro region calls on residents to take steps to curb spread of COVID-19

Organizers who choose to hold events, she said, should include a strong message about sick people not attending, and politely ask anyone who is clearly unwell to leave.

Vines also reiterated guidance issued last week for families with a loved one in long-term care to limit the number of visitors.

“If you’re sick, don’t visit. Check in by phone or message,” she said. “We need to protect the elderly and medically fragile people who are at high risk for serious complications and death.”

“Stay home if you’re sick and only seek urgent care if you would otherwise,” she said. “Anyone with mild illness should stay home until they are without a cough or fever for 24 hours.” 

Mild symptoms of a respiratory infection might include sneezing, sore throat and cough, low-grade fever, and mild aches. One should immediately seek medical attention if they show warning signs such as difficulty breathing, pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen, or are unable to drink or keep liquids down.

Anyone who visits a medical office with respiratory symptoms should be prepared to wear a mask or bring one from home.

During the briefing, Vines turned to a large piece of paper and drew an X and Y axis in bold red marker — the number of cases, and time moving forward, respectively. Then she drew a sharp bell curve that showed a potentially quick and steep increase in the number of confirmed cases. That kind of surge, with so many people seeking urgent care at once, would tax the medical system, she said.

“This is our worst-case scenario. These are all sick people, and all these people need intensive care or ventilators,” she said, pointing to the area under the steepest point of the curve.

 “This is what a pandemic can look like. This is what we’re trying to prevent in public health.”

Vines then drew a second, flatter curve that stretched past the first curve. A similar number of people overall might test positive, but because of effective public health strategies to manage the spread of COVID-19, those positive results would accrue over a longer amount of time. 

That would allow health systems room and time to continue providing higher level care to those who need it the most.. Health officials are working to create these conditions by working closely with long-term care facilities, shelters, detention centers and schools. They are also promoting physical distancing as an effective strategy of slowing the spread of the virus. 

“What we’re trying to do in public health,” she said, “is make this look more like this.”

Concerns 

Viewers have contacted local TV stations asking why health officials haven’t announced specific locations, days and times ill individuals visited public locations. 

“There’s a lot of concern that the public is not being told where patients have been,” one reporter said. If the virus can live on surfaces, why not share that information so people can be aware?

“We are much more cautious for a disease like measles, which hangs in the air,” Vines answered. “In this case, the highest risk are generally household or close social contacts.” 

Health officials often issue press releases when someone who is sick with measles visits a public place because measles virus particles are small enough to hang in the air for a long time after a sick person coughs or sneezes. 

COVID-19, on the other hand, is believed to spread through droplets when a sick person coughs or sneezes. Those particles fall to the ground rather than float in the air. Health officials believe those who have prolonged and close contact (about six feet) with someone with COVID-19 are at most significant risk of becoming ill.

Health Officer Sidelinger said Oregon likely has many more cases than the current test results reveal. That means all residents need to take care, he said, not just the few who may have visited a small number of locations. 

About COVID-19

COVID-19 is a form of coronavirus, a family of viruses that usually cause mild respi­ra­tory symptoms. This coron­avirus was discovered in December 2019.

The virus spreads like the flu, when someone who is sick coughs or sneezes close to another person. Close means about six feet. After someone contracts COVID-19, illness usually develops within 14 days.

Symptoms include fever, cough, runny nose, headache, sore throat and general feelings of illness. Those considered “high risk” include older adults or anyone with the following conditions:

  • Lung problems

  • Heart problems

  • Kidney disease

  • Diabetes

  • A suppressed immune system

Anyone with questions or concerns about COVID-19 should call their primary care provider.

Protect yourself and others

People can take steps to reduce their risk of getting a viral infection, including COVID-19, and protect their family, friends and coworkers. 

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.

  • Avoid touching your eyes nose, or mouth with unwashed hands.

  • Cover your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze, then throw the tissue in the trash and wash your hands.

  • Stay home if you feel ill.

Stay informed