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Oregon epidemiologist: Beach party may be linked to more than 300 cases of COVID-19

This summer, 20 friends rented a beach house on the Oregon coast for a three-day celebration. Nobody felt sick at the time.

But four of the friends were likely infected with COVID-19 and silently spreading it.

Twelve people in the group eventually got sick — but only after they’d first returned to work, unwittingly spreading the virus further.

“They have been linked to five workplace outbreaks, with a total of more than 300 cases so far,” said Dean Sidelinger, the state’s epidemiologist.

He declined to specify where and when the beach party took place.

Sidelinger shared the anecdote as he announced significant progress slowing the spread of COVID-19 statewide. At the same time, he implored Oregonians to stay committed to wearing masks when they are outside of their homes, to limit in person gatherings, and to wash their hands frequently.

State officials are making the case that Oregonians must continue to limit their social gatherings to reduce transmission of the virus to a point where schools can reopen.

After climbing steadily earlier in the summer, new cases of COVID-19 in Oregon have fallen for three weeks in a row, and the number of people hospitalized with the virus is also falling. The state’s testing positivity rate, a key indicator of how widespread infection is, has declined to 5.1%.

Schools can begin to reopen in counties with low rates of COVID-19 when Oregon’s statewide positivity rate falls below 5% for three weeks in a row.

For most counties, the metric to allow schools to reopen is fewer than 10 cases per 100,000 residents. About a third of Oregon’s counties have hit that metric this week.

“We’re headed in the right direction, but we need to keep the pressure on to further slow the spread of the virus,” said Patrick Allen, Oregon Health Authority director.

Allen asked people to rethink any gatherings they have planned for the upcoming Labor Day weekend. Indoor social gatherings of more than 10 people are currently banned statewide.

If you have a small gathering, consider hosting it outdoors rather than indoors,” he said. We cannot afford the setbacks after holidays.”

The state’s disease modeling suggests that on average, each Oregonian with COVID-19 infects one other person.

While that represents a significant reduction in transmission of the virus, at that rate, Oregon’s number of cases of COVID-19 will remain steady.

Sidelinger and Allen say they need the transmission rate to drop a little more — just 10% — to put the state on track to controlling the virus.

“To safely reopen schools, and protect the health and safety of those around us, we need to make sure that people who become infected are passing it along to fewer people,’ Allen said.

Copyright 2020 Oregon Public Broadcasting

Amelia Templeton
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