Malheur County’s COVID-19 cases jump by 3, officials plea for public attention to distancing measures

Only those with symptoms and other circumstances were eligible for testing. (The Enterprise/Yadira Lopez)

NOTE: The Enterprise is providing free access to its content related to the coronavirus as a community service. Subscriptions at $5 a month help the Enterprise keep this up.

ONTARIO – Malheur County health authorities reported Thursday evening that three more county residents have tested positive for the coronavirus, driving the county’s total to 10. That’s an increase of three in about 24 hours, or about 40% more infected residents.

None of the 10 have required hospitalization for treatment of COVID-19, the agency said. Among the new cases is a person aged 80 or over. The county doesn’t release details about individuals to protect their privacy.

But the increase left Sarah Poe, the Malheur County Health Department director, pleading with the community to follow social distancing standards of staying six feet away from other people, staying home except for necessary local travel, and continued attention to hand-washing.

On Wednesday, county officials forwarded a plan to Gov. Kate Brown on how the community could begin relaxing adherence to state restrictions. The plan called for a continued modest rate of infections in Malheur County.

“The county will not be able to proceed with plans for reopening with a significant increase in cases,” the Health Department said in its Thursday evening statement.

The agency said it was conducting intensive contact investigations to determine who the infected residents had contact with. Two of the new cases involved “close contacts,” the statement said.

The new results came a day after county authorities conducted a drive-through testing clinic in Ontario. They processed 39 people assessed as qualified for the test because they had symptoms of COVID-19 or a symptom and other health factors that could put someone at risk for getting the respiratory disease. The results of those tests won’t be available until next week.

In neighboring counties, Grant and Harney each have one confirmed case while Baker County still hasn’t reported any residents infected with the coronavirus.

Malheur County recorded its first case of the coronavirus a month ago, on Sunday, March 29. As of Thursday, 254 people have been tested in the county for the coronavirus with 10 showing up as infected.

“This is an unusual situation with an unknown endpoint,” the health agency said in its statement. “Increased stress and anxiety are likely. Malheur County Health Department encourages everyone to continue to prioritize physical and mental health during this time.”

The agency said that “community spread of COVID-19 can occur anywhere in Malheur County at any time.”

Symptoms include fever, cough, shortness of breath, diarrhea, chills, repeated shaking with chills, muscle pain, headache, sore throat, or loss of taste of small. Anyone who suspects they may be infected should call their primary doctor first, the health authorities said.