Oregon government Kate Brown on Thursday approved the district of Umatilla to return to the state when she learned of the alarmingly high incidence of coronavirus in Hermiston, which is estimated by scientists at Oregon State University.
A random sample of Hermiston residents last Saturday and Sunday found that 41 out of 471 people – or 8.7% – were positive for the coronavirus.
The researchers then calculated that the true prevalence was 17% or about 3,000 active infections in a city of about 18,000 inhabitants.
“This study confirms what we feared, based on data from disturbing data from Oregon that got into trouble: The coronavirus has spread to Hermiston and is threatening the entire community,” Brown said in a statement.
Brown learned of the results of the study on Thursday during a briefing from leading Oregon Health officials, who also shared other data points collected by the state that show persistent problems in Umatilla County.
Coronavirus cases have risen sharply in Umatilla County for a month and a half, placing the jurisdiction in the fourth most cases in Oregon despite having a population of 13. The cases also lie in neighboring Morrow County, urging Brown to move him back to a state of reopening Phase 1.
The rise in the Hermiston area was well documented before the last study conducted by Oregon State University as part of its monthly project, which began in Corvallis before moving to Bend and Newport. State data showed that Hermiston’s zip code, 97838, has regularly been among the highest number of new cases since June.
“Our results suggest that the virus is widespread in Hermiston and is more common than previously reported,” said Ben Dalziel, assistant professor and co-director of the project, in a statement.
It is not clear how many of the 41 people who were positive during the OSU study have already been identified as positive and included in the Oregon Health Bureau figures. The state identified 1,902 residents of Umatilla County with confirmed or suspected infections.
Dalziel told Oregonian / OregonLive that participants who submit test samples will not be asked if they have already been tested or if they have been positive for COVID-19.
However, researchers are asking about symptoms and four of the five Hermiston residents who were positive during the OSU project did not report signs of the virus. Participants will be given a nasal swab.
Researchers also collected samples from wastewater in Hermiston and Boardman in Morrow County to monitor the spread. These also showed high levels of the virus.
Hermiston Mayor David Drotzmann expressed concern about the findings.
“The results of this study are a significant warning,” he said in a statement. “We now have a clearer picture of how many people are transmitting the disease without us knowing it, and how fast it is spreading from family to family, from household to household.”
– Brad Schmidt; firstname.lastname@example.org; 503-294-7628; @_brad_schmidt
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