WESTON — The coronavirus has arrived in Eastern Oregon.
The Oregon Health Authority announced Monday it had a third presumptive case of coronavirus. This time the diagnosis is in Umatilla County. Union County remains free of the coronavirus. Carrie Brogoitti, public health administrator for the Center for Human Development Inc., said local health officials, schools and emergencies services have been preparing for weeks to deal with the virus.
Preliminary reports indicate the Umatilla County resident attended a youth basketball game in the gymnasium at Weston Middle School, 205 E. Wallace St., in Weston, on Saturday. The person is hospitalized in Walla Walla, the health authority said.
Athena-Weston School District officials closed the gym and are deep cleaning out of an abundance of caution. The gym is not attached to the rest of the school. Health officials do not consider the separate school building to be at any risk of exposure.
OHA is investigating the case to see how many other people came into close contact with the victim. When someone has symptoms of a disease such as coronavirus, also known as COVID 19, Brogoitti said, public heath officials conduct a "contact investigation" of the infected person to determine who they may have come in contact with. From there, health officials find those people.
"If I were one of those contacted, somebody would be reaching out to me," she said.
Under federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Prevention guidelines, other spectators who may have been in a closed environment with the individual would be considered "low-risk" exposures.
Athena-Weston School District Superintendent Laure Quaresma told the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin the victim is a man who didn't have children in the district and the game at the middle school gym was not affiliated with any of the district's sports teams.
"We don't have kids with any symptoms," she told the Union-Bulletin. "We know what to look for and we have been in close contact with Oregon Health Authority."
The person diagnosed with coronavirus, more specifically known as COVID-19, also is an employee at Wildhorse Resort and Casino, the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation confirmed Monday.
As a precaution, the tribes' board of trustees ordered the closures of Wildhorse Resort and Casino, Nixyaawii Community School, Head Start, Daycare and Senior Center until all facilities have been fully sanitized and cancelled all events on the Umatilla Indian Reservation for the week.
In a conference call with the media, local and statewide health officials cautioned the public against overreacting to the news while acknowledging the seriousness of the virus.
Umatilla County Public Health Director Joseph Fiumara said his department was starting to receive calls from people concerned about the virus.
"Our entire public health team is diligently working away at following every link we can, and identifying everybody who is potentially at risk and trying to respond to public requests as they come in," he said. "But we are being overloaded with calls."
Dean Sidelinger, the state health officer, also urged caution.
"We know this disease can cause serious illness and has resulted in thousands of deaths across the world, but we want to remind people that the vast majority of people infected with COVID-19 will have a mild disease," he said.
He added that people more likely to suffer serious symptoms are the elderly and people with other health problems like respiratory issues, heart disease, obesity or diabetes.
Although this particular strain of virus originated in China, Chinese food and products manufactured or shipped from China aren't public health threats.
Sidelinger said the Oregon State Public Health Laboratory has the ability to test the virus, but because it's so new, the state is referring to each case as "presumptive" until the CDC can confirm the diagnosis on a retest.
The previous two cases were in the Portland metro area, and with no suspected commonality between them and the Umatilla County case, Sidelinger said Oregonians should expect the virus to spread further in the coming days.
"We anticipate these case numbers will increase and we may see more serious illnesses and possibly even deaths within Oregon," he said.
Brogoitti credited the Oregon Health Authority with its swift efforts to provide information to the public about presumptive cases. She also said the Center for Human Development is working on a coronavirus webpage to serve as the focal point for information about the virus and any developments in Union County.
Meanwhile, other communities in the county continue to make preparations.
Pam Schulz, infection control program manager at Good Shepherd Medical Center in Hermiston, said the hospital is following guidance from the CDC, OHA and Umatilla County Health Department on screening and other procedures.
"It's currently a moving target," she said. "We have a plan we've modified three times since Friday and we're modifying it again today."
Schulz said so far Good Shepherd has not had problems getting medical supplies such as masks, despite an increase in purchases of those items by the general public.
If someone has mild or moderate symptoms they believe may be coronavirus, such as a cough, they can consult with their primary care provider. More serious symptoms such as shortness of breath may need treatment in the emergency room.
Brogoitti said she and other health officials appreciate the public's concern about the virus. Schulz and Brogoitti encouraged people looking for information to consult fact-based and reliable sources, such as the websites for the Oregon Health Authority and Centers for Disease Control
"They should make sure they're getting their information from credible sources," Schulz said.
The COVID-19 is a virus strain that has spread in people since December 2019. The virus is spread from one person to another through the air by coughing and sneezing, close personal contact, such as touching or shaking hands and touching an object or surface with the virus on it, then touching your mouth, nose or eyes.