Nyssa child education facility linked to five Covid cases

Oregon Child Development Coalition in Nyssa. (Rachel Parsons/The Enterprise)

An outbreak of Covid in Oregon Child Development Coalition’s Nyssa location was reported by the Oregon Health Authority Wednesday. The coalition is an early childcare and education service provider for migrant and impoverished students.

Five cases were confirmed linked to the location, with the most recent onset of a case beginning on June 27, according to the state’s weekly Covid report. The report does not specify if it was students or employees who tested positive.

The report came as Malheur County reported a record number of new positive tests on Wednesday with 32. That pushes the county’s total since late March to 266, and the rate of positive tests continued to go up, hitting 12.1%.

In other related developments:

-The city of Nyssa on Monday again closed its offices to the public, making some city services available only by appointment.

-Ontario police reported four officers tested positive for the virus.

-One employee of Pioneer Place, the Vale care center, tested positive for the virus.

-Snake River Correctional Institution, the state’s largest prison, reported 14 positive tests. among employees and inmates.

-Six Malheur County residents remain hospitalized with Covid.

The Nyssa child center was closed from March 23 until June 22, when it opened for three days and served around 55 children each day, said Lori Clark, the coalition’s Malheur County program director.

The center closed again June 25 because some of the 34 workers came into contact with a Nyssa resident who tested positive for Covid. The workers went to get tested, forcing the center to close for lack of staffing.

The coalition closed its other 20 offices across Oregon June 7 out of concern for the increase in Covid cases across the state. The operation had closed all offices March 23, when the state shut down, but thought late June would be safe to open. 

While the offices are closed, coalition workers are still creating food boxes, talking with parents, teaching students remotely and connecting families with resources, said Donolda Dodson, the coalition’s executive director.

(Kezia Setyawan/The Enterprise)

Dodson or Clark said they weren’t were aware of the five cases until the state issued its report, since the cases are private medical information, but Clark knew many of her employees went to get tested and won’t be coming in.

Since they were open only three days, and were very careful about Covid prevention, Clark said the outbreak might be linked more to the person who carried the virus to the facility, rather than the facility itself.

Employees at the Nyssa location checked students’ temperatures and asked if they had any Covid symptoms before allowing them to enter. They turned away some students who demonstrated Covid-lik symptoms, said Clark.

Inside, everyone was required to wear a face covering, and the workers provide masks to students who didn’t bring any. The workers wore smocks over their regular clothes, which were washed every night, and stayed 6 feet apart, although they found it difficult to enforce that rule with the students.

They only allowed students to use the playground in small groups, and custodians sanitized the equipment every morning and between groups.

“It’s a lot of extra work, but it’s what we got to do now to keep everyone safe,” said Clark. 

Despite those precautions, and the fact that they were only open three days, the Oregon Health Authority determined them an outbreak with those five cases.

“The best-laid plans, you work hard, it doesn’t mean people can’t get exposed someplace else,” Clark said. 

(Kezia Setyawan/The Enterprise)

Events are considered an outbreak when there are five or more cases in a business of over 30 employees, said Sarah Poe, Malheur County Health Department director.

Poe said Nyssa has 35 positive cases.

However, of the “huge surge” in Malheur County Covid cases over the last couple of weeks, most aren’t linked to workplaces, she said.

Compared to the 234 Covid cases confirmed in the county as of Tuesday, Poe said the outbreak at the Nyssa child enter “is not actually super significant.” 

“I wouldn’t say that there’s anything really unique about what’s happening in Nyssa,” said Poe. “[The majority of the county’s cases] are from community spread, it’s from social gatherings, it’s from people not following the guidance.”

The Snake River Correctional Institution reported 10 employee cases and four inmate cases, after seeing 65 inmate test results. The prison placed 3,148 inmates in quarantine.

The state Department of Corrections intentionally transferred two inmates with Covid to the facility for treatment because Snake River has a room specifically designed to contain contaminates, said Jennifer Black, agency communications manager. The first positive employee test for the prison was reported June 23, and the first positive inmate test July 1. 

The Department of Corrections doesn’t know every employee test result because employees are not required to disclose their results. The 10 employee cases were self-reported . Before employees enter the prison, staff take their temperatures and ask if the employee has each of the Covid symptoms. 

Following the uptick of Covid cases in Malheur County, the city of Nyssa closed its city hall, library and police department to the public as of Monday, and the offices will only be open by appointment “until we see some flattening out,” said Nyssa City Manager Jim Maret.

(Kezia Setyawan/The Enterprise)

Four Ontario police officers have tested positive for Covid and have taken sick time, according to Police Chief Steven Romero.

A staff member at Pioneer Place Assisted Living in Vale reported to the facility the week of June 22 that she “wasn’t feeling well and had been exposed” during her time off, and she was subsequently taken off the work schedule, said Tom Hathaway, CEO and licensed nursing home administrator for Pioneer Place. She tested positive the week of June 29 and is now self-quarantining, which she must continue for 14 days without showing any symptoms before returning to work.

Pioneer Place reported the positive test to the state and stopped taking admissions from hospitals for several days, Hathaway said, but since the patient hadn’t infected anyone in the facility, the state allowed it to begin accepting new admissions if they were tested before arriving and then isolated in the facility for 14 days. The Oregon Department of Human Services completed an infection control survey for Pioneer Place Wednesday and found it was in compliance with federal regulations, and the facility was allowed Thursday to resume accepting admissions without the two-week isolation.

Nyssa’s Child Development Coalition location was going to be closed for two weeks regardless of the five positive test results. The fact that so many employees took the test to make sure they didn’t have the disease prompted a shortage of workers for two weeks.

According to coalition officials, those two weeks means 64 migrant or impoverished students won’t be coming to school. They won’t be receiving their Head Start or Early Learning education. Their parents won’t go to work. Their farm teams will be one more worker short. Across the state, as the coalition’s 20 centers close, more families will lose income, and less work will get done.

News tip? Contact reporter Aidan McGloin at [email protected] or reporter Bailey Lewis at [email protected] or call 541-473-3377.


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