State says skip gatherings and trick-or-treat as Covid cases surge

SALEM – The coronavirus is “on the march” in Oregon as reported cases climbed in recent weeks and state health authorities urged people not to let down their guard.

Officials with the Oregon Health Authority said that the number of cases of Covid increased 25% in the state in the past six weeks. The number of Oregonians becoming newly infected had been declining over the summer.

Pat Allen, director of the Oregon Health Authority, said Friday that all measures of the virus have been increasing – the numbers of reported cases, people so ill they need hospitalization, and the percentage of Covid tests turning up positive.

“Covid-19 is again on the march in Oregon,” Allen said.

Allen and Dr. Dean Sidelinger, the state epidemiologist, attributed the increase to several factors.

“Social gatherings continue to be a forceful driver of this surge,” Allen said.

Under current Oregon restrictions, indoor gatherings are limited to 10 and outdoor gatherings to 25.

The officials said people have become more relaxed about following those limits with family gatherings, social events and more.

“We need people to make a lasting change in their individual behavior,” Allen said. “That lasting change is going to need to be with us for months.”

The latest state forecast showed that if transmission levels continue unchecked, nearly 600 Oregonians will turn up infected each day ­– nearly triple recent average daily case counts. Last week, though, the state posted a new record for infections reported in a single day – 484.

Malheur County continues to record the highest infection rate in the state. As Friday, the county had recorded 1,834 people infected with the coronavirus since the pandemic started locally in late March. Some 1,511 are presumed to have recovered from the disease and 36 have died. The biggest single source of infections is Snake River Correctional Institution, which reported a total of 448 inmates and 155 employees, cresting a total of 603 last week. Not all employee infections are included in Malheur County’s numbers because they live in Idaho.

Overall, the county’s rate of Covid tests coming back positive continues to be nearly five times the state average.

Sidelinger acknowledged that some Oregonians believe the coronavirus situation has been “overblown” by public health officials and the media. He said that the “vast majority” of people who become infected will have mild symptoms if they have any at all.

Sidelinger said some “don’t believe the risk” and continue to go to gatherings and into the community.

Allen said people aren’t considering the risk of getting seriously ill and potentially dying. He said some Oregonians are focused on only their individual risk.

“People are really focused on myself or my kid,” Allen said. “People really still are not thinking about the risk of giving it to others.”

He said public health authorities are dealing with “counterprogramming” to the government message around health measures such as wearing a mask and observing social distancing. He said some make fun of wearing masks.

“People with some pretty big loudspeakers are out there,” Allen said. “That’s really unhelpful.”

Sidelinger and Allen said Oregonians should seriously consider the traditional holiday gatherings. They should be limited, they said.

They fear that Thanksgiving and winter holiday plans with people traveling and attending households gatherings could allow the virus to spread even more significantly.

“We’d like you to strongly reconsider whether that’s a good idea and potentially make different plans … because if you’re going to do that indoors with a lot of people without masks, that’s really risky behavior,” Allen said.

And Sidelinger urged people to avoid traditional Halloween behavior, including trick-or-treating.

“Covid-19 is going to be part of our lives for the foreseeable future,” he said.

Contact editor Les Zaitz: [email protected].

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