3/11 8:18 pm: Updated below to reflect the discovery of two new cases at a veterans' home in Linn County.
Officials from Deschutes County Public Health announced Wednesday that it has seen its first presumed case of COVID-19. The patient is being hospitalized at a St. Charles facility, officials said.
At a press conference, Dr. George Conway, Health Services Director for Deschutes County, said local facilities continue to be faced with a shortage of N-95 masks, and asked other health partners to consider sharing supplies of masks and other personal protective devices.
Like other cases, the Deschutes County case has to be confirmed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta before it can be deemed "confirmed," but also like other cases around the state, officials say it should be considered a positive case.
Officials from the Oregon Health Authority announced four new cases in Oregon today—including new cases in Marion, Polk, Umatilla and the Deschutes County case, making the total number of Oregon cases at 19.
"The underlying principal is containment of infectious diseases," Conway said. "We reach out to those folks [who may have had contact with the patient], if they're ill, we try to make sure they get care and get tested for this, and self-isolate for the incubation period which is two weeks… We continuously build a circle around where the infection is and do our best to contain it."
All future confirmed cases will be announced on the Deschutes County website page dedicated to COVID-19. Conway was not able to share the number of people who have been tested in Deschutes County, nor how many people are currently under monitoring, but he said it was under five. Quarantine is voluntary, confidential and trained public health nurses follow up with people daily.
Dr. Richard Fawcett is an infectious disease specialist who consults with St. Charles. He emphasized that it is still flu season, so if people are experiencing symptoms of the flu, they should stay at home. While it is helpful to see a provider, it is better to call them ahead to let them know your symptoms.
"St. Charles is here to take care of the community and public," said Dr. Jeff Absalon, executive vice president of St. Charles, who was also at the press conference. "We've been preparing for six weeks. As we speak our caregivers are taking care of this person. We're focused on protecting the workforce and preserving our personal protected equipment. We've implemented restrictions in terms of visiting and we're doing screenings at the doors.... This is what we do, we take care of people every day that have infectious illnesses."
"Very quickly, really in the next few days, we should have adequate capacity for testing,” Dr. Conway said. “I should point out though, the testing is for people that are clinically ill.... So it has to be someone that has a respiratory infection as well as elevated temperature or fever, those are the people that should reach out to their providers, and then if they're becoming more ill, they would be candidates for testing.
“I understand that a lot of people are worried, 'oh Gee, could I have been exposed to this?'” Conway said. “There's a general principal in public health that we don't want to waste tests on what we call the ‘worried well,’ people that are anxious. People that are engaging with the system are people that are actively ill.”
Conway said until very recently there have been a very limited number of tests, and these were required to be routed through the Oregon State Public Health lab in Hillsboro. Last week the FDA provided emergency license for commercial test kits. As we reported in our print edition this week, the state lab has the capacity now to test up to 4,800 people, though they've tested less than 300 thus far. More people may have been screened and determined not in need of COVID-19 testing.
“The testing process still has quite a few kinks and wrinkles in at that need to be worked out, but I think we’re on a trajectory for that,” Conway said. “I should point out that nationally there is very, very little idea about the location and the frequency of these infections. There hasn’t been enough testing, it hasn’t been extensive, it hasn’t been a systematic sample, so we’re really in the dark about the distribution of this in the country.”
In a statement Wednesday night, Oregon Department of Veterans' Affairs Director Kelly Fitzpatrick said, "From the start of concerns about COVID-19, and especially upon learning that the very age group that resides in our veterans' homes is also the most susceptible, we took immediate measures to protect our veterans, including adhering to state and federal guidelines. Even before COVID-19 emerged, the two (state) veterans' homes regularly followed strict infectious disease protocols."
The patients are in isolation, and an Infection Control and Specimen Collection Strike Team will deploy to the county to "assess infection control," and collect specimen samples from all residents and care providers at the facility, OHA announced Wednesday.
The Oregon Department of Veterans' Affairs has two veterans' homes, including one in The Dalles, as well as the Edward C. Allworth Veterans' home in Lebanon—in Linn County—opened in 2014. According to ODVA's website, the home consists of "four neighborhoods, up to three houses per neighborhood, and each house accommodates up to 14 eligible residents."