Governor Kate Brown says “You Are The Key” to reopening Oregon. On May 1, she announced the state’s reopening plan involves a partnership with six Oregon hospitals and Oregon Health Sciences University to ramp up testing and contact tracing throughout the state.
“In March, I issued Oregon’s “Stay Home, Save Lives” order,” said Brown. “I know it was just a month ago but holy smokes it feels like much longer than that!”
Brown emphasized the need for science and data-driven strategies to reopen Oregon as safely as possible.
The “Stay Home, Save Lives” order helped flatten the curve according to Dr. Deal Sidelinger of the Oregon Health Authority.
“The actions we took have prevented 70,000 infections here in the state and 1,500 hospitalizations,” according to Sidelinger. “And we need to be proud of Oregonians coming together to achieve that.”
“I also want to underscore that this [new reopening] strategy is not without risk,” explained Sidelinger. “Our projections show that the disease will increase in Oregon as we open up, that more people will be hospitalized and possibly even die. So we need these measures in place to mitigate that.”
Rural communities may reopen earlier: Since different parts of the state have seen different rates of infection, some areas may be able to reopen sooner than others. According to Brown, some rural counties in Oregon that have had minimal cases may be ready to start reopening as early as May 15 providing they meet the criteria.
“I want to be clear, we will not be able to open Oregon quickly or in one fell swoop,” said Brown.
“With this overarching strategy of testing and tracing in place, we will be able to safely begin the process of reopening Oregon.”
Targeting Testing: Brown explained the state needs to increase testing capacity in three areas. The first group that needs expanded testing includes anyone with COVID-19 symptoms. The second group consists of individuals who live or work in close group situations that may increase their vulnerability, such as senior care homes, prisons, and farm labor housing.
The partnership with six Oregon hospitals should increase the capacity for testing the first two target groups. These hospitals will also liaise with rural hospitals to ensure consistency in the type of tests used and procedures. The new goal is to conduct 15,000 tests a day, but this may further increase depending on the need.
The new goal is for providers to have the capacity to test anyone with mild COVID-19 symptoms. According to Sidelinger, these symptoms include a cough, shortness of breath, fever, chills, muscle pain, headache, or a new loss of taste or smell “which we know is a unique symptom of this disease.”
The third testing target group is a randomized sample of the Oregon population including people who have no known symptoms. The state partnered with OHSU to launch the “You Are the Key” program to administer this testing and research.
State Partnership With OHSU: OHSU is teaming up with the State of Oregon and the OHSU-PSU School of Public Health to recruit 100,000 Oregon volunteers to participate in a one-year tracking program.
“This program is a gamechanger,” said Brown. “It will give us a more accurate understanding of the true rate of infection in Oregon and to have ongoing precision monitoring of any new outbreaks.”
The participants will be randomly selected but will have a choice about their involvement. Researchers expect to start sending invitations starting the week of May 11, 2020.
“If you are one of those being invited to participate, I ask you to heed the call. We are all in this together,” said Brown. “And together we can be the key to beating the disease.”
According to the OHSU website, testing subjects will:
- Be representative of the state’s diverse population
- Monitor their temperature over a 12-month period
- Receive a home test kit if they experience any COVID-19 symptoms. A subset will receive a home testing kit regardless of symptoms to help determine the prevalence of asymptomatic infections.
Test results will be reported to the Oregon Health Authority to assist with contact tracing and home isolation of those who test positive. OHSU stated that “study participation is voluntary and upholds strict patient privacy guidelines.”
Increased Contact Tracing: In addition to testing, contact tracing is also essential to reopening the state, according to the governor.
“We have to let people know if they have been unknowingly exposed to the virus. This is called contact tracing,” said Brown. “We contact trace in order to stop the disease from spreading quickly and widely.”
She said the State of Oregon plans to hire 600 people including community health workers to help with contact tracing.
According to the governor: “These workers will provide people who have been exposed to the disease with information and support to understand their risk and what they should do to isolate themselves from others even if they themselves don’t feel ill.”
Some populations such as tribe members, Latinx, and African Americans are disproportionately impacted both within Oregon and throughout the United States. Brown said the employed staff will reflect those communities and will include bilingual and bicultural workers.
“We know that tribes and communities of color are especially vulnerable to the virus,” said Brown. “We will make sure we have the contact tracing capacity to engage with these Oregonians in culturally specific ways.”
Some other at-risk populations include essential workers like those who work in healthcare settings, grocery stores, agriculture, and food processing and service.
Finally, Brown reminded Oregonians that most likely physical (or social) distancing will be part of everyone’s daily lives until there are effective treatments or a vaccine for COVID-19.
The video press conference is available to watch on YouTube.
By Samantha Sied