LA GRANDE — Union County has its first official case of COVID-19.
The Center for Human Development in La Grande confirmed Thursday afternoon a local resident has the new coronavirus. The nonprofit center oversees public health in the county and in a written statement reported the exposure risk to Union County residents is low.
“This individual had a recent history of international travel and is not considered to have acquired it from community spread,” the CHD statement said.
Outside of that, however, the center reported it is protecting the identity of the infected person and would not release any additional information about their location or who they may have come in contact with.
Carrie Brogoitti, the center’s public health administrator, said the organization knows people are concerned about their risk and want specific information, but the local public health authorities can not share more information.
“I know in the past during other disease outbreaks public health has made announcements about locations where people could have been exposed,” Brogoitti said, “but how we respond and investigate each disease is different based on how it is spread. In this case we focus on high-risk close contacts to a confirmed case.”
Next stepsThe center in a news release stated the Oregon Health Authority and Union County Public Health are working to identify and isolate any individuals who may have been in close contact with the person while they were contagious.
“Now that we have identified an individual with the COVID-19 virus, we will conduct a contact investigation,” Brogoitti said. “That involves us speaking with the person who has the disease, identifying any people that they have come in close contact with that could be at risk, and notifying those people that they have been in contact and what they should be looking out for.”
Anyone who was in close contact with the person can expect a visit from public health investigators, she said. But anyone else needs to continue following the daily precautions of frequent hand washing, social distancing and staying home.
The Oregon Health Authority’s testing lab is the primary facility testing for the novel coronavirus, however private labs have begun testing as well. Brogoitti said the sate agency works directly with the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which confirms each case of the virus.
Brogoitti also said there is local testing for COVID-19 in the county, but that is only for those who meet certain criteria and don’t have other respiratory infections or the flu. She said this is due to the limited number of testing kits available.
“We know that people want to be tested, and not being able to get an answer when they are concerned about their health can be really frustrating,” Brogoitti said. “Because there is no specific treatment for this virus, in most cases having a test to confirm you have it won’t change what happens and what the doctor tells you to do.”
The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend social distancing and proper hygiene as the most effective ways to keep the virus from spreading. Brogoitti said social distancing isn’t possible for everyone, but the goal is to slow the spread so hospitals can handle an influx of ill people and to protect health care providers and other essential services, such as police and medics.
“Families can protect people in high-risk groups (people over 60 or those with underlying medical conditions) by limiting contact with them,” she explained. “Use the phone, letters and video chat rather than in-person visits to keep them safe. Employers can look at telecommute options to help reduce the spread among their workforce and help reduce community transmission by allowing people to stay at home as much as possible.”
Virus puts hospital workers at riskGrande Ronde Hospital is collecting specimens of people who meet the criteria for having the virus and sending those to labs for testing, hospital spokesperson Mardi Ford said.
Healthcare workers are another group at risk of catching the virus. Ford explained doctors, nurses and staff at the hospital are taking precautions to protect themselves in addition to advising people on how to do the same.
“We understand how to use our personal protective equipment, which includes goggles, gloves, gowns, masks of various types,” Ford said. “Right now, we are doing OK with our supplies, but we are all concerned the suppliers and stockpiles we draw from could dwindle if the virus spreads. That being said, in order to best protect the community we need our healthcare workforce to stay healthy and strong for as long as this takes.”
According to Dr. Inski Yu, an Infectious Disease doctor at Grande Ronde Hospital, home management through isolation is the best course of treatment at this time. The focus should be on preventing transmission to others and monitoring for symptom, which could lead to a need for hospitalization. Yu said it is best to try and resolve fever symptoms without medication to prevent masking the true status of the fever and improvements in respiratory function.
The Oregon Association of Hospitals and Health Systems has called on Gov. Kate Brown to issue an order to shelter in place. This order requires those who are non-essential employees in the workforce to stay home except to get food and medical care.
Ford said Grande Ronde Hospital supports this call to action. Brown has yet to issue that order.
The La Grande hospital and its clinics remain open for non-coronavirus medical issues. The hospital encouraged anyone who may feel ill with symptoms of the novel coronavirus (coughing, sore throat, difficulty breathing and other flu symptoms) to call their primary care provider for a preliminary screening before coming in.