Benton County is warning its residents that it could be placed on a coronavirus watch list as a result of falling behind in several key public health indicators.
Benton County isn’t a hotspot for COVID-19. It’s near the middle of the pack among Oregon counties when it comes to positive cases per capita. As of July 20, six county residents have died and 122 others have tested positive for the coronavirus, according to the Oregon Health Authority.
But county public health officials say Benton County, which is home to the main campus of Oregon State University, is at risk of getting on a “Watch List” kept by the governor’s office. That's because the county is falling short in several key indicators, including an increase in the percentage of positive cases, and the percentage of cases that are traced to an existing case.
Vounty spokesperson Alyssa Rash said it means officials don’t have a good handle on how the virus is spreading locally. “We always hope that we’re able to find the origin point because that means that we are successfully contact tracing all of our cases, and we know where they’re coming from and we know where they’re going,” she said.
But in Benton County, like in many areas across the country, contact tracers are having trouble getting hold of people who may have been exposed to the virus. "Our ability to succesfully contact trace depends on community members answering their calls, or their willingness to work with contact tracers in identifying those they've been in close contact with," said Rash.
Being on the watch list wouldn’t immediately lead to new restrictions, but it could mean extra scrutiny from state health officials. Eight Oregon counties are already on the watch list, which was announced by Gov. Kate Brown on July 3. The counties are Lincoln, Wasco, Jefferson, Lake, Morrow, Umatilla, Union and Malheur.
No counties have been added to or removed from the watch list since it was created.