Oct. 21, 2020 — On Oct. 16, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown placed Lane County on the state’s COVID-19 watch list for the first time following a two-week increase in confirmed or suspected cases in the county.
Benton, Clatsop, Malheur and Umatilla counties are also currently on the list.
According to the Brown, presence on the watch list does not indicate that the county is being moved back to Phase I and is only a precautionary measure intended to help policymakers and COVID-19 response teams to prioritize resources and assistance to counties that are seeing the broadest spread of COVID-19.
The assistance offered to a particular county depends on the assessment of its needs, often including epidemiological assistance and staffing support.
Brown stated that the Oregon Health Authority (OHA) is working with Lane County Public Health to address the county’s increase in community spread, which she attributed in part to social gatherings.
“There is no question that the spread of COVID-19 in Lane County is connected — to a degree — to student social activities,” said Brown, referring to cases which originated from students attending the University of Oregon in Eugene. “Social gatherings, like off-campus parties, are incredibly dangerous and spread this disease. Let me be clear, though: it will take the entire county working together to bring these COVID-19 numbers under control. Once COVID-19 is spreading in the community, small family get-togethers can also lead to dozens of infections.”
The University of Oregon had reported 270 cases for the first three weeks of October when the governor’s office made its announcement. As of Friday, the university had seen 421 total cases since June 1, illustrating a 63-percent increase of cases at the university since Oct. 1.
Counties are placed on the watch list when there is a “sporadic case” rate of 50 or more per 100,000 in the preceding two weeks and the county has more than 5 sporadic cases in the same timeframe.
Sporadic cases are those which cannot be traced to a source, indicating community spread.
According to data from OHA released Oct. 20, there have been 633 COVID-related fatalities in the state. OHA also reported 346 newly confirmed cases, bringing the state’s total to 40,136.
“The watch list signifies caution,” Brown said. “When we are able to address community spread early on, the more likely we are to be successful in curbing that spread. While OHA offers support and resources to help county officials prevent further case spikes, it remains up to all community members to do their part.”
Florence City Manager Erin Reynolds emphasized the need for continued vigilance at Monday’s meeting of the Florence City Council.
“As many of you have heard, we are in a new state of COVID for Lane County. That means we are encouraging everyone to do what you can to be creative and safe and enjoy the upcoming holiday of Halloween,” Reynolds said. “Do what you can outside and enjoy the holiday with your close family and your COVID circle.”
Meanwhile, neighboring Douglas County’s COVID-19 Response Team similarly appealed to the county’s residents this week to help curtail the spread in light of recent increased metrics. Though Douglas County has had a relatively low case rate during the pandemic and is still far from being considered for the watch list, there has been a marked increase since mid-September — including in sporadic case counts.
In the response, Douglas County Public Health Officer Dr. Bob Dannenhoffer stated that almost all the county’s cases were from different sources and that he anticipates numbers to remain high and possibly increase through the rest of the fall season.
“It appears that Dr. Redfield and Dr. Fauci are likely correct that the vaccine will not be available for wide use until the second or third quarters of 2021,” he said, referring to the directors of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, respectively.
The Douglas County response team pointed to an upswing of cases since Labor Day as “worrying” considering the time of year — warning of severe health, educational and economic impacts should cases continue their upward trend.
“This should be very concerning for everyone as we enter into the busiest social and cold/flu season of the year,” said Dannenhoffer. “We not only think we have reached a critical juncture with COVID-19 in Douglas County, we know we have. If we do not take action to stop the spread now, the virus could potentially wreak havoc and residents run the risk of seeing these real-life consequences.”
County health officials remind residents to maintain health practices that can reduce the spread of the virus:
In addition, OHA has issued new guidance on the use of masks. It has determined that the use of face shields are not recommended with the exception of when dealing with the hearing impaired. The OHA favors masking instead. Face coverings are now required in all private and public workplaces and are required for outdoor and indoor markets, street fairs, and private and public schools and colleges.
More COVID-related reopening information for the State of Oregon can be found at govstatus.egov.com/reopening-oregon.