OHA to take on role of reporting of large COVID-19 workplace outbreaks

The Oregon Health Authority (OHA) will begin reporting large COVID-19 outbreaks in workplaces, based on a directive from agency head Patrick Allen. Effective immediately, OHA will publicly report all past and future outbreaks that involve five or more COVID-19 cases in a workplace setting, no matter where the outbreak is located.

The only exception to the new policy would be if the disclosure would identify an individual or a reporting source.

As a home rule state, Oregon’s public health system is a partnership between OHA and county health departments. Currently, responsibility for investigating and reporting any communicable disease outbreak rests with a lead public health agency, in most cases a local public department, if the outbreak is limited to a single county jurisdiction. OHA is the lead agency in public health investigations that involve multiple counties or the Oregon portion of a national outbreak.

Reporting on any public health investigation must balance public health and safety, the need to ensure full cooperation by people who are affected by the outbreak so health officials can best protect the public, and patient privacy. Oregon’s public health investigations statute limits the disclosure of information. Health officials are only permitted to report information when public health is at risk, or when the agency publishes the data.

Director Allen said, “The COVID-19 pandemic demands that we all rethink how we accomplish necessary tasks that are vital to our roles. OHA believes a consistent, transparent statewide approach to reporting COVID-19 cases in workplaces will give Oregonians more information to help people avoid the risks of COVID-19 infections. We want to ensure employers, workers and customers know the same criteria will apply, no matter where they work or what businesses they support, everywhere in Oregon.”

OHA will publish information about all workplace outbreaks involving 5 or more cases through news releases and other regular COVID-19 communications channels and publications, including its COVID-19 website.

What to Do When Other People Aren’t Social Distancing

If you’re being strict with your social distancing, chances are there are people around you who are being less careful. While the majority of Americans seem to understand the need to limit contact with others to slow the spread of the coronavirus, people vary widely in their social distancing practices.

Maybe you wear a face mask religiously in public, while many around you go maskless. Or maybe some people seem oblivious to the six-foot distance guidelines that you faithfully observe.

You might be more careful about social distancing than some of your friends and neighbors, or even the people you live with. Maybe your spouse doesn’t take the virus as seriously as you do, or your teenaged kids act like you’re freaking out for no reason and ignore your pleas to social distance.

What can you do if you find yourself in a situation where others seem to be throwing caution to the wind?

Safety Considerations

First, be very careful about confronting a stranger about their social distancing practices. This topic is highly charged and has become a major point of contention in the debate about how and when to restart the economy.

Attempts to change others’ behavior could potentially trigger a violent reaction, as has happened several times. You also risk prolonging contact with someone who is at an elevated risk for carrying the coronavirus, given their disregard for social distancing; if they approach you and start yelling, you could get infected.

If you notice a persistent problem, contact those who are responsible for the space—for example, the manager of your grocery store or the authorities who oversee your local trails.

Beware of Catastrophizing

Keep in mind that the risk is low for contracting COVID-19 from very small deviations in the social distancing guidelines. For example, if a fellow hiker stumbles and briefly comes within five feet of you, it’s unlikely you’ve just contracted the virus (which would also depend on their carrying it). While it might be frustrating to feel like others aren’t doing all they can to keep their distance, avoid making yourself more distressed than necessary.

Be Generous

Aim to make the kindest possible interpretation for why others aren’t being as scrupulous about social distancing. It may not be that they’re “selfish,” “arrogant,” or ”uninformed”. They might just have a different understanding of risk and of the need to take precautions, and might think they’re actually being quite careful.

Maybe they think, for example, that it’s okay to get close to you in the grocery store since you’re both wearing masks (though the CDC guidelines say to “keep at least 6 feet between yourself and others, even when you wear a face covering”). Similarly, many people don’t seem to know that their leashed pets also need to maintain social distance. Making a different judgment about the reason behind their behavior can make you feel less upset by it (even if the actions themselves are no less risky).

Communicate Honestly to Loved Ones

Let friends or family members know if you’re concerned about their social distancing practices. You may not change their minds or their behavior, but at least you’ll know you did what you could to protect them and those they encounter.

Be clear and firm about where your boundaries are. Don’t feel pressured to change your behavior if local family or friends try to convince you to hang out with them. Even if they say you’re being “ridiculous” or “paranoid,” you don’t have to compromise what you believe is right and what you’re comfortable with. 

The biggest challenge may come when you and a family member you live with don’t see eye to eye on social distancing. Talk openly with your loved one about your concern, using positive assertive communication:

  • Take ownership for your thoughts and feelings, rather than making accusations. For example, say, “I worry that you’re going to bring the virus home to Grandpa,” rather than, “You’re being really stupid and selfish.”  
  • Say what’s on your mind as calmly and rationally as possible. The fear you feel about the virus will likely lead to anger, but an aggressive tone will just put the other person on the defensive and lead nowhere.
  • Listen to the other person’s perspective. Try to understand their thoughts and feelings, rather than listening only for what you disagree with. You may not agree with their conclusions, but it helps to know where they’re coming from. If they feel truly heard they may also be more willing to consider changing their behavior.

Control What You Can

Trying to make others do what you want is unlikely to work and usually only leads to frustration. Ultimately you can only control yourself. You can’t force your fellow pedestrians to give a wide berth on sidewalks and trails, for example, but you can take measures to stay as far from them as possible. You might need to limit your exposure to public spaces to the least busy times of day, or avoid narrow trails that make distancing difficult.

Remind yourself of the value of accepting the limits of what you can control. This requires a deep level of acceptance, which doesn’t mean resignation. You can care about this issue a great deal, even as you acknowledge that your control is limited.

Article adapted from WebMD Mental Health Blog by Seth Gillihan, PhD., Clinical psychologist

Upcoming Ontario COVID-19 Drive-Up Testing

The Malheur County COVID-19 Taskforce is offering COVID-19 testing to individuals who meet specific criteria at the Malheur County Fairgrounds (795 NW 9th St, Ontario) on the first Wednesday of June, July and August, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. The dates are June 3rd, July 1st, and August 5th.

The next drive up testing sites in Ontario:

  • Wednesday, June 3rd from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Fairgrounds
  • Wednesday, July 1st from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Fairgrounds
  • Wednesday, August 5th from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Fairgrounds

The Taskforce is led by Lieutenant Rich Harriman and supported by staff from the Health Department, Environmental Health, Ambulance Service District, Planning, Surveying and several community agencies. The tests are supplied from the Oregon Office of Emergency Management through the state’s contract with Quest Diagnostics.

There was a delay in results being delivered to the Malheur County Health Department from the Quest lab used previously at testing sites in Nyssa and Vale. We have been assured that the specimens collected at the testing sites going forward will go to a lab in Seattle where there will be a much quicker turn around. We hope to call each person tested with results within 5 days.

Eligibility

Testing at the Malheur Drive-Up Testing Sites is only for individuals who live or work in Malheur County. A person qualifies for testing if they have one primary symptom ortwo secondary symptoms.

Primary Symptoms

  • Cough
  • Shortness of Breath or Difficulty Breathing

Secondary Symptoms 

  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Repeated shaking with chills
  • Muscle pain
  • Headache
  • Sore throat
  • New loss of taste or smell

This testing option is not meant to replace or eliminate other testing offered by local healthcare providers. The goal is to supplement those options in order to ease some of the pressure on the existing system and make the process more accessible to the public. People still should contact their medical provider for guidance and assessment if they have symptoms such as fever, cough, and/or shortness of breath. For medical emergencies, they should call 911 and notify the dispatch personnel that you may have COVID-19.

Procedure

Upon arrival at the Malheur County Fairgrounds testing site, individuals will be required to remain in their vehicles at all times. Each driver should drive cautiously and follow traffic directions. Testing is limited to four individuals per vehicle, and those individuals must be seated at a seat with a working window. You will be required to complete a screening form, which includes where you live and work, high risk factors, and a release of liability. All forms and service available in English and Spanish.

Personnel in full medical protective gear will check the individual’s temperature with a no-touch thermometer and use a swab to obtain the necessary sample from the individual’s nose. If you do not meet the testing criteria, you will be diverted back to your residence to monitor symptoms and contact your local healthcare provider.

Additional information on COVID-19 and the testing sites is available by calling the Malheur County Health Department at 541-889-7279.

Phase 1 for the Public

At this time, the role of the public is very important to ensure we keep everyone safe, businesses stay open, and we can move into Phase 2 in a few weeks. Please be patient and vigilant during this time! It is crucial for the public to follow the current directives in Phase 1:

  • Isolate at home if you have even mild symptoms.
  • People who have underlying health conditions or are over 60 should still be staying home except for essential needs.
  • Practice good hygiene – research shows washing your hands 10 times per day significantly reduces transmission of respiratory illness.
  • Maintain 6′ distance between you and anyone you don’t live with.
  • Wear cloth face coverings when you leave home. Recent research suggests that if at least 60% of the population wore masks that were just 60% effective in blocking viral transmission—which a well-fitting, two-layer cotton mask is—the epidemic could be stopped.
  • Avoid trips beyond 50 miles of your home. This is not the time for overnight or day trips outside your area. That means people should not be travelling before we know if we can enter Phase 2 June 5th at the earliest.

Information adapted from the OHA and an excellent article, Amid the Coronavirus Crisis, A Regimen for Reentry, by acclaimed surgeon, writer, and public health expert, Atul Gawande.

Reopening Guidance and Signage

As we enter Reopening Phase 1 May 15th, we need everyone who lives and works in Malheur County to follow the guidance that will ensure we reduce the spread of COVID-19 and allow us to enter Phase 2 safely in a few weeks. To help keep the public and workers safe and healthy, please follow the guidance below and post signage in businesses. With the right information, we can get through this together.

Guidance

General Guidance for Employers
General Guidance for Employers Spanish

Reopening Guidance for the Public 
Reopening Guidance for the Public Spanish

Guidance on Use of Face Coverings
Guidance on Use of Face Coverings Spanish

Outdoor Recreation Organizations
Outdoor Recreation Organizations Spanish 

Retail Stores
Retail Stores Spanish 

Child Care Operations
Child Care Operations Spanish

Personal Services Providers
Personal Services Providers Spanish

Restaurants and Bars
Restaurants and Bars Spanish

Shopping Centers and Malls
Shopping Centers and Malls Spanish

Fitness-related Organizations

Signage

Wash hands sign 


Going out, Stay apart sign 


Symptoms sign 


Why sign in sign

Malheur County Reopening Plan Approved

The Malheur County Reopening Plan to enter Phase I on May 15th has been approved.

Malheur County has been proactive in the COVID-19 response, from raising community awareness in February and activating the ICS team and state of emergency in March, to hosting the first drive-up sites for testing in Eastern Oregon and submitting the first version of the Reopening Plan in April. The Malheur County Reopening Plan went through five revisions to meet the criteria released by the Governor’s Office and address questions in their review. The final version can be viewed, along with extensive information about the State’s reopening phases, on the COVID-19 Resources for Oregonians website: govstatus.egov.com/or-covid-19.

The letter of approval from Governor Brown emphasized the importance of carefully reopening according to state guidance: “My goals for a safe and strong Oregon:

  • Minimize hospitalizations and deaths;
  • Allow people to return to work so they can support themselves and their families;
  • Minimize risk to frontline workers;
  • Avoid overwhelming the health care system;
  • Protect those at highest risk of severe illness, especially the elderly, those with underlying health conditions, and communities of color; and
  • Support social/cultural/spiritual reopening for small groups that preserve community cohesion and cultural practices.

I want to be clear that reopening does not come without risks. With every restriction lifted we know transmission of the virus has the potential to increase. The contact tracing, testing and personal protective equipment requirements that were part of the conditions for opening will be essential to mitigate that transmission increase.”

The Malheur County COVID-19 Taskforce urges everyone who lives and works in Malheur County to show their support for reopening by wearing cloth face coverings when they leave home, staying vigilant about hand washing and disinfecting surfaces, and maintaining 6 feet physical distance from people outside your household when possible. By following the prevention measures, we can continue to slow the spread of the virus and hopefully enter Phase II as soon as June 5th.

Recorded Webinars for Businesses Planning for Phase I

The Malheur County COVID-19 Taskforce presented three webinars for business owners and managers in preparation for Phase I: Reopening Oregon on May 13th. The recordings of the webinars are linked below.

Questions about Retail and Personal Services can be sent to Eric Evans, Planning Department Director, at 541-473-5185 or eric.evans@malheurco.org. Questions about Restaurants and Bars can be sent to Craig Geddes, Environmental Health Department Director, at 541-473-5186 or craig.geddes@malheurco.org.

Oregon Health Authority Reopening Guidance:

Sourcing Cloth Face Coverings

Wearing a face covering shows your support for reopening areas of the economy and public life that have been shut down. CDC recommends wearing cloth face coverings in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain, especially in areas with community-based transmission like Malheur County. As we move towards Phase I of the reopening plan, businesses and the public should be prepared with cloth face coverings and other needed Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).

The Malheur County Health Department encourages everyone to wear cloth face coverings whenever you leave home and are around other people, but recognize they can be hard to find if you want to purchase one pre-made. We are supporting local business selling cloth face coverings to businesses and the public and want to share the contact information below for local sellers.

If you need additional PPE and other guidance, visit the Small Business Navigator website: https://www.oregon4biz.com/Coronavirus-Information/

If you know of another Malheur County business selling cloth face coverings to other organizations or the public, leave the information in the comments and we will add to the post.

Reopening Malheur County Webinars for Businesses Planning for Phase I

Malheur County is waiting for approval of plan to reopen.

The Malheur County COVID-19 Taskforce is presenting three webinars for business owners and managers in preparation for Phase I: Reopening Oregon. The webinars will be hosted this Wednesday, May 13th for Retail, Personal Services, and Restaurants and Bars to cover the State Reopening Guidance and answer questions. “Personal Services” is defined as barber shops, hair salons, esthetician practices, medical spas, facial spas and day spas, non-medical massage therapy services, nail salons, tanning salons, and tattoo/piercing parlors.

Malheur County submitted a plan for reopening and will find out later this week if we are allowed to enter Phase I on Friday, May 15th. More information on reopening is available on the Governor’s website, govstatus.egov.com/or-covid-19.

The webinar log in information for Retail and Personal Services is listed below. For Restaurants and Bars, all licensed establishments in Malheur County will receive the information directly from Environmental Health. All webinars will be recorded and made available later on the Malheur County Health Department website, malheurhealth.org.

Questions about Retail and Personal Services can be sent to Eric Evans, Planning Department Director, at 541-473-5185 or eric.evans@malheurco.org. Questions about Restaurants and Bars can be sent to Craig Geddes, Environmental Health Department Director, at 541-473-5186 or craig.geddes@malheurco.org.

Oregon Health Authority Reopening Guidance:

Retail and Personal Services Webinar Information:

Allergies or COVID-19?

With so many of us wrestling with fears and unknowns surrounding the coronavirus pandemic, every throat tickle, nose drip, or cough is suspect: do I have COVID-19?

Of course, it is spring, so many people may be experiencing their annual springtime tree pollen allergies. Colds also remain common, just as was true before the coronavirus. And although influenza season is coming to an end, perhaps you’ve wondered if some of your symptoms could be the flu. Below are key symptoms to help you distinguish these illnesses and take action as needed.

Are your symptoms consistent with COVID-19?

Keep in mind that most people who get COVID-19 will be able to recover at home (see information about what to do if you are sick from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention). However, if your symptoms are worrisome, call your health care provider so you can be evaluated.

Key symptoms: The more common and sometimes severe symptoms of COVID-19 are fever, cough, and shortness of breath. Two additional common symptoms are fatigue and loss of taste and smell. Less commonly, people may have diarrhea, nausea, or vomiting. A significant number of people experience no symptoms (it’s even possible to have coronavirus and not experience a fever). Usually symptoms appear within five days after exposure, but it can take up to 14 days.

How can I be certain I have COVID-19? If you are concerned about symptoms, contact your health care provider to find out whether you should be tested.

Two free drive-up testing sites are happening this week: May 12th in Nyssa and May 14th in Vale.

Are your symptoms consistent with allergies?

Spring, with its budding trees and warmer weather, means allergy season for many of us. As you see the trees in your area budding, that means the pollen counts will also be increasing.

Key symptoms: Two strong indicators that suggest allergies: if you’ve had springtime allergies before, and if itch is a prominent component of your symptoms. People with allergies often have itchy eyes, itchy nose, and sneezing, as well as less-specific allergy symptoms such as a runny, congested nose, and a sore throat or cough that is generally due to postnasal drip.

How can I be certain I have allergies? The best way to diagnose allergies is by using skin testing at an allergist’s office. If you found taking medications such as over-the-counter antihistamines or steroid nasal sprays helpful in prior years, then it would be reassuring that if your symptoms improve with these medications, your symptoms may be due to seasonal allergies. As anyone with allergies can attest, allergies linger for months, so the timeline can often be a clue, too.

Are your symptoms consistent with the common cold?

Key symptoms: Symptoms of the common cold are usually a runny, congested nose as well as a sore throat, headache, and generally feeling unwell. A mild cough due to postnasal drip and sneezing can occur, but itch would be less likely. More severe symptoms, such as fever and shortness of breath, are not classic symptoms of the common cold.

How can I be certain I have a cold? A cold is usually diagnosed simply by assessing symptoms and without testing. Over-the-counter cold medications often can help with symptom control. The common cold will usually resolve within approximately one week of onset of symptoms.

Are your symptoms consistent with the flu?

In the US, the flu season is coming to an end, whereas COVID-19 numbers continue to rise. So, flulike symptoms should prompt concern for COVID-19.

Key symptoms: Flu is characterized by fever, chills, muscle aches, and exhaustion. It classically comes on suddenly, as opposed to the more gradual onset of the common cold. More mild symptoms can also occur, similar to the common cold, such as a runny nose, sore throat, and headache. Vomiting and diarrhea are uncommon in adults, but can happen in children.

How can I be certain I have the flu? Flu is diagnosed based on a swab test performed by a healthcare provider. The flu vaccine is also an important part of prevention. The duration of symptoms is approximately one week, with symptom improvement occurring around five days.

Still not sure what is causing your symptoms?

You may find this chart from the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology helpful. However, it’s wisest to check with your health care provider if you’re concerned that your symptoms might be due to COVID-19.

Article adapted from Oregon Health Authority and Harvard Health Publishing.