Contact Tracing

Teresa Aguilera with Northeast Oregon Network, La Grande, works as a contact tracer Thursday, Oct. 29, 2020, with the Center for Human Development Public Health. Contact tracing remains vital to tracking the COVID-19 pandemic.

UNION COUNTY— The Center for Human Development Public Health reported three new positive cases for Union County Friday, Oct. 30. This brings the weekly total to 23 cases, the highest number of cases in a week since June.

“A lot of factors contribute to the numbers rising, so it is important we take the guidances seriously,” Public Health Administrator Carrie Brogoitti said. “I know it’s harder to continue preventative measures over time — it is not in our nature to keep our distance and wear masks — but it is so important that we do these things.”

Brogoitti said there is no known link among the current cases, but the trend in Union County mirrors what is happening statewide. The Oregon Health Authority on Friday reported the highest number of cases in the state since the start of the pandemic, with 600 new confirmed and presumptive cases.

“Some of these cases (determined in) our contact investigation have been connected, but there is no clear single source or place they have come from,” Brogoitti said.

Finding the links between cases is difficult, Brogoitti said, because contact tracers are struggling to get responses from people. Brogoitti said having a clear connection among cases can help the community stay safe and keep the county off Gov. Kate Brown’s “watch list,” which could mean more restrictions.

“Contact tracing really is one of the greatest tools we have to slow the spread,” Brogoitti said. “And the watch list looks at sporadic cases. If people don’t give us information about contacts, they will be considered sporadic cases.”

Union County is not on the governor’s watch list this week, but Brogoitti said it is possible the county could end up on the list if cases continue to trend upward.

The Center for Human Development does not have the total number of tests completed in the county, as it is not the only test provider and is testing only people who are symptomatic. Brogoitti noted that if the number of tests are increasing it is because the number of people in the community are coming in with symptoms.

While Oregon’s total number of cases trends up, the state Friday morning unveiled new school reopening metrics that take effect immediately and will allow close to 130,000 students statewide to return to on-campus classrooms.

Most schools have remained closed to in-person learning since March due to the pandemic. Arguably the biggest changes in the new metrics are how COVID-19 cases are counted — counties must meet a benchmark over a two-week period rather than meet it for three weeks in a row — and the case count and test-positivity benchmarks are much higher. The more lenient rules for elementary students now include all elementary students, not just those in grades K-3.

Green zone: To be in the “green zone” and bring back all K-12 students, a county must now have fewer than 50 cases per 100,000 residents in a two-week average — or less than 30 total cases over that two-week span for small-population counties — and a county test positivity rate of no more than 5%.

(This is a significantly easier benchmark to meet than the former metrics. Counties previously had to have 10 or fewer cases per 100,000 residents and a 5% or lower positivity rate to welcome back all students. The new metrics are also more lenient in the requirements for bringing back K-3 students, which was 30 or fewer cases per 100,000 residents.)

Yellow zone: The new metrics’ “yellow zone” — where elementary classes may be taught in-person or in a hybrid model but the state recommends older students stay home — is a county case rate between 50 and 99.9 cases per 100,000 residents and a county test positivity rate of 5-7.9%. Small counties can have between 30 and 44 total cases in a two-week period.

Orange zone: Counties reach the transitional “orange zone” if they have between 100 and 200 cases per 100,000 residents and a county test positivity rate of 8-10%. Small counties can have between 45 and 60 total cases.

If a county in the orange zone has upward-trending COVID-19 numbers, the school district and local health authority must decide whether students should return to distance learning. If the county’s COVID-19 numbers are trending downward, all students must remain in distance learning until the county reaches the yellow zone.

Red zone: Finally, in the “red zone” — when a county has more than 200 cases per 100,000 residents or more than 60 total cases for small counties, along with a test positivity rate of more than 10% — distance learning is mandatory.

There is an exception for rural schools with fewer than 75 students that are located more than 25 miles from a town of at least 3,000 residents. Those schools can reopen if their attendance area, as well as the closest city where many families shop and work, have no COVID-19 community spread.

Any school district teaching students in-person that is in the red zone must transition all students back to distance learning by Jan. 4, 2021.

Brown’s office sent the media a list of counties that were eligible, partly eligible and not eligible to re-open schools, but this list contradicts with the actual COVID-19 numbers and the new metrics.

A spokesperson from the Oregon Department of Education on Friday morning said state officials are looking into these contradictions.


Newest reporter to The Observer. Beats include crime and courts, city and county news and arts/entertainment. Graduated June 2019 with a bachelors in Journalism from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo.

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