An Open Letter To Lane County

County protocols prevent identifying rural communities with confirmed cases of the virus

April 3, 2020 — 

To Lane County Government and Lane County Public Health:

I’m writing to you and the public because of a lack of transparency in identifying communities in our county where COVID-19 cases have been confirmed

The current protocol set by Lane County and followed by Lane County Public Health is that, unless the virus is confirmed in the Eugene/Springfield area, the location is only identified as “Outside of Eugene/Springfield or “in rural Lane County.”

This protocol puts communities at risk and needs to change.

Siuslaw News became aware of a potential case of COVID-19 in Florence this past Wednesday (April 1) through a reliable source in the healthcare industry who asked to remain anonymous. The individual told us of a local woman in her 50s who had been confirmed to have COVID-19 following testing at RiverBend; that would be the first confirmed case of the virus in the Florence area.

As we have been encouraging everyone in our community to do in order to avoid spreading rumor and speculation, we waited for official confirmation from LCPH of what we already had been told.

On April 2, LCPH announced that a woman in her 50s had been officially diagnosed with COVID-19.

She had been hospitalized but was now recovering at home. Her symptoms first began on Feb. 23. The woman went untested for 25 days, until the symptoms came to a point that testing was deemed necessary on March 18.

It is unknown if or when she went into isolation during that period.

All of this information was made available and confirmed by LCPH Public Information Officer Jason Davis.

The one thing LCPH was unable to confirm? The community in which the woman resides, referring instead to a location “in rural Lane County.”

There are approximately 4,200 miles that constitute “rural Lane County.” Included within it are hundreds of communities, many of which have sizable populations. This includes the Siuslaw region of Florence, Dunes City, Mapleton, Swisshome, Tide and unincorporated areas that make up an estimated 16,000 residents in total.

If LCPH statements only identify confirmed cases as being in “rural Lane County,” then every community not within the Eugene/Springfield region could potentially assume they are the latest location with the virus. And if every community outside of the Eugene/Springfield area thinks it has the latest COVID-19 case, it could create ongoing county-wide confusion, with communities — and local news outlets — unable to confirm facts and dispel rumor.

In addition, Lane County’s refusal to share information could also make the spread of the disease worse while weakening community efforts to effectively combat the disease.

Ultimately, we realize that the protocols currently in place will not change without public engagement and a demand for transparency.

As a community news source, we are constantly reminding our readers that we only report on information that we can verify through official and legitimate sources. Yet in the case of confirming or denying cases of COVID-19 in our communities, there is no verification process available to us.

I have reached out to other news outlets in Lane County, including The Register-Guard and KLCC — in the hopes that they will share this information with their communities in order to affect change in the county’s protocols — either by running this open letter, writing their own or by reporting on this effort.

We have been relying on — and would like to continue to rely on — official information from Lane County in order to limit the amount of rumor, assumption and misinformation that can occur without official sources.

I feel it is imperative that people in the community have a full understanding of the situation at hand, and if/when COVID-19 is officially confirmed in our communities so that they can respond accordingly.

By not being able to officially verify specific information for communities outside of Eugene/Springfield, the current LCPH protocol is potentially fostering a dangerous situation that could in fact make the spread of COVID-19 worse in isolated areas.

Ned Hickson

Editor — Siuslaw News

Managing Editor — Cottage Grove Sentinel



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