July 30, 2020

Gov. Kate Brown on Thursday added Multnomah to a COVID-19 “watch list” of Oregon counties with high rates of sporadic disease: cases of the virus that cannot be traced to a source. 

The list, first announced July 3, initially included Baker, Jefferson, Lake, Malheur, Morrow, Umatilla and Wasco counties. And today, July 30, they were joined by Hood River, Marion and Multnomah counties. Two counties originally included, Union and Lincoln, have since been removed.

A county is placed on the watch list whenever its rate of sporadic cases exceeds 50 per 100,000 over a 14-day period and the county reports more than five sporadic cases in the same timeframe. Counties remain on the list for at least three weeks, until their sporadic case rates drop.

The Oregon Health Authority (OHA) steps in to help listed counties with additional support for testing, communications and case investigations, State Health Officer Dean Sidelinger told reporters at a media briefing Thursday.

From July 12 through July 26, Multnomah County’s Public Health Division logged 588 cases that investigators could not trace to a known source — a sporadic case rate of 72 per 100,000.

“We are concerned about the increase in cases in Multnomah County overall, and especially those cases that we can’t trace to a known source, so we certainly welcome the state’s support,” said Public Health Director Rachael Banks. “We have been talking with OHA about ways the state system can become more efficient to help our investigators streamline their work, and we look forward to the direct support for more testing and education.”

Multnomah County may ask the Oregon Health Authority to expand the County’s ongoing work to provide low-barrier testing. The County would also welcome a state-level campaign to discourage employers from requiring workers and job candidates to document negative test results when seeking employment or when coming back to work after traveling outside Oregon — both of which strain testing capacity that could be used for tracking COVID-19’s spread in more vulnerable communities.

The County will also discuss ways the health authority can work with employers who won’t cooperate with local public health during outbreak investigations, and expand the County’s capacity for hyper-local, culturally and linguistically appropriate communications to affected communities.

“The idea of staying home was to get the virus low enough to use our public health tools of testing and tracing to find hot spots and link transmission,” said Multnomah County Health Officer Dr. Jennifer Vines. “Because of the limitations in testing and human behavior, we now have widespread community transmission. When you get to that level, you need to continue testing and contact tracing. But we also still need a community solution: That’s face coverings and physical distancing.”