February 27, 2020

This post was updated Feb. 29.

With the first presumed case of COVID-19 in Oregon, we’re working through the weekend to identify those with close and prolonged contact with the person affected and letting them know how to stay well and stay safe, says Tri-County Health Officer Dr. Jennifer Vines.

The Oregon Health Authority announced the first presumed case of COVID-19 in Washington County on Feb. 28. The case occurred in a person with no known travel risk. The person is hospitalized in Kaiser Westside Medical Center.

Tri-County Health Officer Dr. Jennifer Vines said public health staff would be working through the evening and the weekend to identify the person's close personal contacts. Dr. Jennifer Vines: “We’ll be working to identify those with close and prolonged contact and let them know how to stay well and stay safe. This is what public health does.”

At Multnomah County, a team of nurses and epidemiologists works full-time and on-call 24/7 to keep infectious diseases from spreading. Any time a new risk arises — like COVID-19 — the team immediately launches into plans on how to scale up quickly if needed. 

That team began planning how it would respond to a case of COVID-19 the very same day Washington State first announced a resident there tested positive for the new virus, on Jan. 21.

What does that look like? 

About two dozen staff from the county’s Public Health Division, Office of Emergency Management and Office of Communications sit on the county’s core response team. The team established a response plan based on potential levels of risk to guide its actions. 

Epidemiologist Kevin Jian works on the team that's tracking COVID-19

The Multnomah County Health Officer coordinates planning for a regional health system that includes the area’s two leading health insurers, eight hospital systems and five local public health authorities. The Multnomah County team also shares a weekly situation report with about 400 members of local governments and community groups (posted at multco.us/covid19).

Meanwhile, a communications team shares information through multco.us/covid19 and pushes out social media and community messages. They also respond to community questions. The Multnomah County Public Health Division has a dedicated community outreach team that has coordinated trainings for culturally-specific community groups and community health workers who serve our immigrant and refugee residents.

All of these activities are in partnership with the Oregon Health Authority, the state agency that is leading the statewide response and planning. You can find out more about that by visiting this page.

What you can do

There are things everyone can do to prepare for this virus and prevent the spread of other viruses like influenza. That’s because the same things that protect against cold and flu germs, also prevent COVID-19.

“Anytime people gather, there's a chance to exchange germs. That’s how the flu and common cold spread” said Health Officer Dr. Jennifer Vines. “So if COVID-19 comes to Oregon, there is a chance that a lot of people will get sick. That said, there’s a lot we can do to stay healthy and protect the people we spend time with.”

To protect yourself, your family, and your coworkers:

  • Wash your hands often with warm water and soap.

  • Cover your mouth with a tissue, sleeve, or elbow (not hands) when you cough or sneeze.

  • Stay home if you’re sick. 

  • Keep your immune system strong by eating a healthy diet, getting enough sleep and regular exercise, and by taking care of underlying health conditions.

There are also basic steps every household should take to prepare for any unexpected event: 

  • Learn about your employer’s sick leave and telecommuting policies.

  • Establish a childcare plan in the event your kids need to stay home from school.

  • Make sure you have the kinds of foods, drinks, medications and pet supplies you would want if you needed to stay home and limit your contact with other people for a couple weeks.

  • Get to know your neighbors, especially those who might need extra help like seniors or people living alone.

  • In the face of rumors check multco.us/covid19 for reliable information.

“Take this time to prepare yourselves and reach out to your neighbors,” said Public Health Director Rachael Banks. “We each need to do our part, support one another, and work as a community.”

Banks asks residents to share information from reliable sources. Spreading rumors can cause harm and increase fear. She urged residents to remember that a person’s ethnicity, language or country or origin is not a risk factor for COVID-19. 

“We have heard alarming stories from Asian American residents about being targeted by those who fear they might somehow carry this virus, and some business owners have reported their sales have dropped,” she said. “Please support our Asian American neighbors and businesses. Again, we must face this as a community united.”

About COVID-19

This novel coronavirus was discovered in Wuhan, China in December 2019. 

Health Officer Dr. Jennifer Vines coordinates the regional health system response to COVID-19.

Coronaviruses are a family of viruses that usually cause mild symptoms similar to the common cold. Two coron­aviruses — Middle Eastern Respi­ra­tory Syndrome (MERS) and Severe Acute Respi­ra­tory Syndrome (SARS) have caused more severe illness. COVID-19 is a new strain of the virus and current infor­ma­tion suggests it is less severe.

The virus spreads like the flu, when someone who is sick coughs or sneezes close to another person. Close means about 6 feet. A person is more likely to make another person sick when they have symptoms like a cough.

After someone contracts COVID-19, illness usually develops 2 to 14 days later. Those symptoms include fever and cough. Seniors, and people with under­lying health condi­tions would be at greater risk of severe disease.

If a person did have symptoms and might have been exposed to COVID-19 they should call their local health department and their health care provider to decide if they need to be seen. If so, the health experts would help create a plan to enter a clinic in a way that avoids being around others.

Learn More

This situation can cause fear and anxiety in all of us. Residents who need support can call the County’s Mental Health Call Center any time of day or night. Just dial 503-988-4888.

To learn more about this virus and to find out what local, state and federal health authorities are doing to keep the public safe, check out these resources.

  • County response: Multnomah County Public Health leads the local response to the COVID-19 outbreak.

  • Oregon response: The Oregon Health Authority leads the state response to the COVID-19 outbreak.

  • United States response: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention leads the U.S. response to the COVID-19 outbreak.

Residents who are concerned can also call their primary care provider, or local county health department:

  • Multnomah County Public Health: 503-988-3406

  • Clackamas County Public Health: 503-655-8411

  • Clark County Public Health: 564-397-8182

  • Washington County Public Health: 503-846-3594