Oregon Gov. Kate Brown’s decision Thursday to push Umatilla County to stay in home status came after she learned of the alarmingly high prevalence of coronavirus in Hermiston assessed by researchers at Oregon State University.
A random sampling of Hermiston residents last Saturday and Sunday found that 41 out of 471 people – or 8.7% – tested positive for coronavirus.
The researchers then estimated that the current prevalence was 17%, or about 3,000 active infections in a city of about 18,000 inhabitants.
“This study confirms what we fear based on weeks of disturbing data from the Oregon Health Authority: Coronavirus has spread throughout Hermiston and threatens the entire community,” Brown said in a statement.
Brown learned about the results of the study Thursday during a briefing by senior executives at the Oregon Health Authority, who also shared other points collected by the state showing ongoing problems in Umatilla County.
Coronavirus cases have been on the rise in Umatilla County for a month and a half, pushing jurisdiction over the fourth case in Oregon, despite having 13 residents. Cases are also rising in Morrow County, prompting Brown to push it back into Phase 1 reopening status.
The increase in cases in the Hermiston area was well documented even before the latest study, conducted by Oregon State University, as part of his several-month project that began in Corvallis before moving to Bend and Newport. State records showed that Hermiston ZIP code 97838 has regularly had among the largest number of new cases since June.
“Our results show that the virus is extremely prevalent in Hermiston and more prevalent than previous data showed,” Ben Dalziel, an assistant professor and co-director of the project, said in a statement.
It is not clear how many of the 41 people who tested positive during the OSU study had already been identified as positive testers and included in the numbers compiled by the Oregon Health Authority. The state has identified 1,902 residents of Umatilla County with confirmed or suspected infections.
Dalziel told Oregonian / OregonLive that participants who submit test samples are not asked if they have already been tested or tested positive for COVID-19.
But researchers ask about the symptoms, and four out of five Hermiston residents who tested positive during the OSU project did not report having indicators of the virus. Participants are given a swab to collect a sample from the nose.
The researchers also collected wastewater samples at Hermiston and Boardman in Morrow County, to monitor the spread. They also showed high levels of the virus.
Hermiston Mayor David Drotzmann sounded the alarm over the findings.
“The results of this study are an important warning,” he said in a statement. “We now have a clearer picture of how many people are carrying this disease without knowing it, and how fast family-to-family, family-to-family is spreading.”
– Brad Schmidt; firstname.lastname@example.org; 503-294-7628; @_brad_schmidt
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