Masking up becoming the norm

Jake and Kathy Wolfe of Enterprise wear masks when they are out and about, including grocery shopping. Oregon Gov. Kate Brown issued orders effective Wednesday requiring the statewide use of masks or other face coverings in indoor public spaces to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

LA GRANDE — Union County added 13 more confirmed cases of COVID-19 over the weekend — 11 on Saturday and two on Sunday — and five more cases Monday, raising the total to 327, according to the Center for Human Development.

That count is the sixth-highest in the state, according to data from Oregon Health Authority, which also announced Monday the state total now sits at 8,485.

The latest count comes the same day Oregon Gov. Kate Brown announced a requirement for all Oregonians to wear face coverings in indoor public spaces effective Wednesday, extending a mandate already in place in eight other counties.

“Over the last month, we have seen the disease spread at an alarming rate in both urban and rural counties. The upcoming July 4th holiday weekend is a critical point for Oregon in this pandemic, and we can all make a difference,” Brown said in a press release. “Modeling from the Oregon Health Authority shows that if we don’t take further action to reduce the spread of the disease, our hospitals could be overwhelmed by new COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations within weeks.”

The release stated Oregon OSHA and state and local agencies will lead the enforcement of face covering requirements.

Some local business, such as Safeway and Walmart, have been encouraging customers to use masks. Joe Beans Coffee, the popular gathering spot in downtown La Grande, stated on its Facebook page the governor’s order is forcing the establishment to close.

“Last day till its over is Tuesday June 30,” according to the posting.

To date, there has been one death in the county related to the virus, a 90-year-old woman who died Thursday at Grande Ronde Hospital, La Grande. Data from the center continues to show 13 people are considered as having recovered from COVID-19, meaning there are 313 active cases.

More than 600 tests were conducted June 18-19 at a drive-thru testing clinic in La Grande. There might be a few test results lingering from that clinic, but CHD Public Health Administrator Carrie Brogoitti said the majority of those test results have been processed.

“My understanding is that most of those, if not all of those results have come through from that two-day testing event,” she said.

Through Monday, there were 1,537 negative tests in the county — up 603 from the 934 negative results through June 19. Conversely, there have been 74 new positive results since that date.

“It’s safe to assume that many of the positives were tested at those events,” Brogoitti said, although she also said there still are individuals getting tested through their care providers or at CHD. “I don’t want people to assume all of those positives came from those events.”

Since the 218 cases in the two peak days of the outbreak, Union County’s highest count of new cases in one day was 19 on June 23. The county has added an average of 6.7 cases per day since the spike occurred.

Brogoitti said some of the cases are connected to the outbreak, but that doesn’t apply to all new cases. That also doesn’t mean they are necessarily community spread, she said, in which the virus is spreading from casual contacts among numerous people and cannot be traced to a source. Oregon health officials have been concerned about the rise in those cases.

More than 1,400 of those have been confirmed in the last week. In all, 204 individuals in the state are reported to have died with COVID-19.

As of Saturday, Oregon’s overall positive testing rate was 3.4%, while the national average is 9%. But with the rate rising, state officials decided Monday it was time to act.

Less than 1% of those under 50 who are infected have died from the virus. Fatalities increase rapidly with age, with 20 percent who are 75 and older dying. A New York Times statistical analysis reported 54,000 of the deaths in the United States — 43% — are tied to nursing homes and long-term care facilities.

The Oregon Health Authority has used forecasts from the Institute of Disease Modeling to create a trio of scenarios of the growth of infections: optimistic, moderate and pessimistic.

State epidemiologists recently have said they were aiming to stay within the moderate scenario in which COVID-19 cases would rise to about 900 a day. Daily hospitalizations would go to 27 per day. Under the pessimistic model, new cases could spike to more than 4,800 per day and 82 new patients would need hospitalization each day.

The optimistic scenario saw cases remain at about 180 new daily cases. But Oregon has passed 200 cases in a day, with all but one of the highest number of daily cases occurring in the past two weeks.

Oregon joins a growing number of states that are backtracking on “reopening” amid a surge of new COVID-19 cases. Only two states — Rhode Island and Connecticut — have not shown a rise in coronavirus infections in the past week, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Florida, Texas and Arizona — three states that quickly reopened businesses in recent weeks — are showing the sharpest increases.

Editor's note: The Observer updated this story to correct Oregon’s overall positive testing rate.


Gary A. Warner for the Oregon Capital Bureau contributed to this article.

East Region Sports Editor

Ronald's primary beats are Eastern Oregon University, La Grande High School and the other eight high schools of Union and Wallowa counties. As an avid sports fan, he is primarily reading about or watching sports when he isn't covering a game.

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