Just hours after getting test results Wednesday, health officials confirmed the first presumptive case of COVID-19 in Deschutes County.
More people could be identified in the coming days as the Deschutes County individual’s case is investigated, said Dr. George Conway, Deschutes County Health Services director, at a press conference Wednesday.
Conway would not release any details on the person, citing patient rights protections. Health officials confirmed the person is in isolation at St. Charles — however, they didn’t specify which city.
County health nurses are also talking to the person to learn where the person has traveled or who the person has been in contact with.
“Public health nurses will begin public health investigations,” Conway said.
In addition to the presumptive case in Deschutes County, new cases also were identified in Polk, Marion and Umatilla counties, according to an Oregon Health Authority announcement. That brings the number of cases identified in Oregon to 19 people who have been diagnosed with COVID-19 since the first case was confirmed earlier this month.
“There’s been a lot of focus on the (COVID-19) virus, but it’s still flu season,” said Dr. Richard Fawcett, Deschutes County Health officer. “Not every cough and sneeze may be COVID-19.”
None of the new cases traveled to a country where the virus is actively spreading, according to state health officials. The people with the virus in Deschutes, Polk and Marion counties did not have any contact with someone who had the virus, state health officials said.
Simultaneously the World Health Organization also announced that COVID-19 is now a pandemic, indicating the epidemic is global and infects people by easily spreading from person to person. The virus, which began in China’s Wuhan province, has infected about 122,000 people worldwide. Officials have confirmed more than 1,100 cases in the United States. Worldwide, 4,550 people have died from the virus, which began spreading in January, according to data from the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center.
Ever since the COVID-19 outbreak began, officials have been meeting in preparation for the day that a person in Central Oregon would be identified as having the virus, said Dr. Jeff Absalon, St. Charles Health System chief executive physician.
“We’re here to take care of our community,” Absalon said. “We’ve been preparing for this.”
Those in the health care profession need to care for patients, but also must protect themselves. Already, area hospitals have sought to screen visitors for symptoms and have posted hand sanitizers and masks at entry points.
Absalon said that further restrictions may be imposed at the hospitals as a way to protect hospital workers and patients.
“We’re taking care of people every day. It’s what we do,” Absalon said. “We’re prepared for this.”
Now that a case has been confirmed in Deschutes County, Bend-La Pine Schools will start taking extra steps to protect its students, according to a Wednesday afternoon press release signed by Superintendent Shay Mikalson. Measures that the school district will take include increasing deep cleaning, particularly at cafeterias, regularly ventilating schools at night to increase fresh airflow, and hiring a deep-cleaning agency for rapid cleaning if exposure is identified in a school district building or facility, Mikalson wrote.
The district will also remove all “No Thank You” sharing bins in school cafeterias, according to Mikalson. Normally, students can take unwanted food from their trays and put it in these bins for another student to grab.
Bend Mayor Sally Russell wanted to reassure residents that health officials have a protocol they will follow to protect the public.
“I feel safe,” Russell said. “People need to inform themselves. We’re all communicating to keep our community safe.”