Expanded COVID-19 Testing Criteria Addresses Disparities

The Malheur County Health Department (MCHD) is following new Oregon Health Authority (OHA) revised COVID-19 testing guidelines to prioritize underserved populations and improve equity. The new criteria include expanded symptoms and testing for people without symptoms who are disproportionately affected by the coronavirus. The Malheur County COVID-19 Taskforce offers free testing to individuals who meet the revised criteria at several upcoming drive up testing sites.

Please share these bilingual flyers for the upcoming drive-up test sites:

Expanded Criteria

If you have any of the following symptoms: cough, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, fever or chills, vomiting, diarrhea, repeated shaking with chills, muscle pain, headache, sore throat, or new loss of taste or smell, you should isolate at home, call your health care provider, and get tested.

If you identify as Black, African-American, Latino, Latina, Latinx, American Indian/Alaska Native, Asian, Asian-American or Pacific Islander, identify as having a disability or if your first language is not English, you are encouraged to get tested.

Addressing Disparities

In the most recent OHA Weekly Update, the severity and rates of COVID-19 by race and ethnicity were reported:

  • Race: White: Cases per 10,000: 7.1
  • Race: Black: Cases per 10,000: 26.1
  • Race: Asian: Cases per 10,000: 12
  • Race: American Indian: Cases per 10,000: 26.3
  • Race: Pacific Islander: Cases per 10,000: 78.3
  • Ethnicity: Hispanic: Cases per 10,000: 37.2
  • Ethnicity: Non-Hispanic: Cases per 10,000: 8.3

MCHD is committed to reducing inequalities and promoting precautions that will protect everyone in Malheur County. Communities of color are being hit tremendously hard by COVID-19. The reason people are encouraged to be tested, even without symptoms, is because of the disparities experienced by groups that have been disproportionately affected during the pandemic. In an effort to provide equitable care, more access to testing is needed for those who experience health, economic, and social conditions that put them at higher risk for contracting the virus and of developing more severe illness or death.

It is helpful to note that race is a self-identification of a social group, according to the U.S. Census. Race has a long history of being used to divide members of society and it is worthwhile to keep in context that disparities exist because of historic discrimination, collective and transgenerational trauma, and continued inequities.

In Malheur County, we are especially vulnerable to COVID-19. Sixteen percent of our population has a disability and 38.6% identify as not-white, not-Hispanic. People who identify as Hispanic make up 13% of the population of Oregon, yet represent 40% of cases. Idaho is reporting similar disparities. With high rates of chronic health conditions, poverty, drug use, and housing units with more people than rooms, the impact of COVID-19 has exacerbated the negative social determinants of health that diminish our community well-being.

“We know that these racial ethnic disparities in COVID-19 are the result of pre-pandemic realities. It’s a legacy of structural discrimination that has limited access to health and wealth for people of color,” said Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith, director of the Equity Research and Innovation Center at Yale School of Medicine. People of color have higher rates of underlying conditions, including diabetes, heart disease, and lung disease, that are linked to more severe cases of COVID-19. They also often have less access to quality health care, and are disproportionately represented in essential frontline jobs that can’t be done from home, increasing their exposure to the virus.

The Oregon public health response addresses disparities. Contact Tracers help to meet basic needs of those who are isolated or quarantined because of COVID-19, including connection to resources for food, wage support, and temporary housing when needed. Local Community Based Organizations, other county departments, and health care providers are also building trust, sharing culturally responsive resources in multiple languages, and providing wrap around services for those in need.

It is critical that the public not use this information to stigmatize any part of the population. COVID-19 is not an “Us vs. Them” problem as the impacts have reached all parts of public life and it is only through collective impact that we will improve the health outcomes for all. We’re a better country when we make sure everyone has a chance to meet their potential. We’re a country founded on the ideals of opportunity and equality and we have a real responsibility to live up to those values. Health disparities are an injury to our values and we need to do everything in our power to provide equity and build a stronger community.

Sources and Recommended Reading:


How to Clean and Disinfect Your Home

Follow these tips for cleaning and disinfecting your home, especially if someone has COVID-19 or other respiratory virus.


  • Clean first, then disinfect.
  • Wear reusable or disposable gloves for routine cleaning and disinfection.
  • Clean surfaces using soap and water, then use disinfectant.
  • Cleaning with soap and water reduces number of germs, dirt and impurities on the surface. Disinfecting kills germs on surfaces.
  • Practice routine cleaning of frequently touched surfaces. High touch surfaces include:
    • Tables, doorknobs, light switches, countertops, handles, desks, phones, keyboards, toilets, faucets, sinks, etc.


  • Use a household disinfectant and follow the instructions on the label to ensure safe and effective use of the product. 
  • Always read and follow the directions on the label to ensure safe and effective use.
  • You should never eat, drink, breathe or inject these products into your body or apply directly to your skin as they can cause serious harm. Do not wipe or bathe pets with these products or any other products that are not approved for animal use.
  • Diluted household bleach solutions may also be used if appropriate for the surface.
    • Check the label to see if your bleach is intended for disinfection and has a sodium hypochlorite concentration of 5%–6%.
    • Unexpired household bleach will be effective against coronaviruses when properly diluted. Follow manufacturer’s instructions for application and proper ventilation. Never mix household bleach with ammonia or any other cleanser. Leave solution on the surface for at least 1 minute.
  • To make a bleach solution, mix:
    • 5 tablespoons (1/3rd cup) bleach per gallon of room temperature water OR 4 teaspoons bleach per quart of room temperature water
  • Bleach solutions will be effective for disinfection up to 24 hours.
  • Alcohol solutions with at least 70% alcohol may also be used.

Soft surfaces

For soft surfaces such as carpeted floor, rugs, and drapes.

  • Clean the surface using soap and water or with cleaners appropriate for use on these surfaces.
  • Launder items (if possible) according to the manufacturer’s instructions.Use the warmest appropriate water setting and dry items completely OR disinfect with an EPA-registered household disinfectant. 
  • Vacuum as usual


For electronics, such as tablets, touch screens, keyboards, and remote controls.

  • Consider putting a wipeable cover on electronics.
  • Follow manufacturer’s instruction for cleaning and disinfecting.
    • If no guidance, use alcohol-based wipes or sprays containing at least 70% alcohol. Dry surface thoroughly.


For clothing, towels, linens and other items.

  • Launder items according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Use the warmest appropriate water setting and dry items completely.
  • Wear disposable gloves if possible when handling dirty laundry from a person who is sick.
  • Dirty laundry from a person who is sick can be washed with other people’s items.
  • Do not shake dirty laundry.
  • Clean and disinfect clothes hampers according to guidance above for surfaces.
  • Remove gloves, and wash hands right away.

Clean hands often

  • Key times to clean hands
    • Immediately after removing gloves and after contact with a person who is sick.
    • After blowing one’s nose, coughing, or sneezing
    • After using the restroom
    • Before eating or preparing food
    • After contact with animals or pets
    • Before and after providing routine care for another person who needs assistance (e.g. a child)
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for 20 seconds.
  • Hand sanitizer: If soap and water are not readily available and hands are not visibly dirty, use a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol. However, if hands are visibly dirty, always wash hands with soap and water.
  • Always read and follow the directions on the label to ensure safe and effective use.
    • Keep hand sanitizers away from fire or flame
    • For children under six years of age, hand sanitizer should be used with adult supervision
    • Always store hand sanitizer out of reach of children and pets
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.

When someone is sick

Bedroom and bathroom

Keep separate bedroom and bathroom for a person who is sick (if possible).

  • The person who is sick should stay separated from other people in the home (as much as possible).
  • If you have a separate bedroom and bathroom: Wear disposable gloves and only clean the area around the person who is sick when needed, such as when the area is soiled. This will help limit your contact with the person who is sick.
    • Caregivers can provide personal cleaning supplies to the person who is sick (if appropriate). Supplies include tissues, paper towels, cleaners, and disinfectant. If they feel up to it, the person who is sick can clean their own space.
  • If shared bathroom: The person who is sick should clean and disinfect after each use. If this is not possible, the caregiver should wait as long as possible before cleaning and disinfecting.
  • See precautions for household members and caregivers for more information.


  • Stay separated: The person who is sick should eat (or be fed) in their room if possible.
  • Wash dishes and utensils using disposable gloves and hot water: Handle any used dishes, cups/glasses, or silverware with gloves. Wash them with soap and hot water or in a dishwasher.
  • Clean hands after taking off gloves or handling used items.


  • Dedicated, lined trash can: If possible, dedicate a lined trash can for the person who is sick. Use disposable gloves when removing garbage bags, and handling and disposing of trash. Wash hands afterwards.

Cases By Zip Code

The Oregon Health Authority continues to publish Weekly Reports under the Situation in Oregon section on the OHA COVID-19 website with information about positive cases, including zip code.

The goal of releasing the data is to help people better understand the extent of community-based spread of the virus. The Malheur County Health Department (MCHD) and OHA are committed to being transparent and accountable to all the communities we serve.

OHA acknowledges privacy concerns that may exist as the release of data could potentially lead to the identity of cases. OHA is taking steps to protect privacy of patients by combining data. If a zip code’s population is less than 1000, then OHA combines zip codes and report the aggregate case count. Also, if there are less than 10 cases in a zip code, then OHA reports “1-9.”

For Malheur County, the June 17, 2020 Weekly Report shows COVID-19 cases in all three main cities. These numbers report the total case counts up to June 17th.

  • For 97914 (Ontario), there are 29 cases.
  • For 97913 (Nyssa), there are between 1-9 cases.
  • For 97918 (Vale), there are between 1-9 cases.
  • There are 183 cases statewide in zip codes with less than 1,000 population. We can confirm that there have been cases in towns of less than 1,000 in Malheur County.

Help us prevent an outbreak by staying vigilant and encouraging your household members to do the following:

  • Stay home if you have even mild symptoms and call your health care provider to find out if you should be tested.
  • Practice good hand hygiene with frequent hand washing or use hand sanitizer.
  • Cover coughs/sneezes with elbow or tissue.
  • Avoid touching your face.
  • Practice physical distancing of at least six feet between you and others not in your household.
  • Use cloth face coverings in public. It may be difficult to ensure that you can stay six feet away from others at all times. If you need a face covering, contact our office at 541-889-7279.

COVID-19 Trends

With 15 new cases last week, the rate of new COVID-19 cases in Malheur County has shot up. The above graph shows the rate of new cases over 12 weeks, since our first lab-confirmed positive case was reported the week of March 29th.

As record numbers of Oregonians, including those in Malheur, have tested positive for COVID-19 recently, many have wondered if that’s simply due to increased testing. Although testing has increased, the positive test rate, which shows the prevalence of the virus, has increased, both statewide and in Malheur County. By offering tests to more and more people at a lower threshold, meaning people with fewer or no symptoms are included in testing, the positive test rate should go down as the number of tests increases. Last week, more COVID-19 tests (149) were reported in Malheur County than any week prior and yet the positive test rate went up to 4.6%. The state rate has gone from 1.6% in mid-May to 4.1% for the week ending last Friday. The takeaway is that COVID-19 is spreading more rampantly.

We are hopeful that by being transparent with as much data as possible, while protecting private health information, the public will better understand the increasing risk of COVID-19 transmission in Malheur County. Malheur County Health Department urges everyone to follow the preventive measures that will prevent outbreaks and protect those who are most vulnerable from severe illness or death.

Happy Father’s Day!

We know a lot of people are celebrating Father’s Day and we encourage everyone to connect with their dads and those who fill those roles in their lives. As Oregon starts to reopen, it may feel like things are back to normal. The reality is, we still have to be careful to avoid spreading COVID-19.

Keep in mind that people 65 and older and those with chronic health conditions are at a higher risk of complications. If your dad is in a high-risk group or is not part of your household, you may want to make some adjustments to your regular Father’s Day activities.

Thank you to all fathers and the important role each of you play in your family and in our community!

Updated Phase 2 Guidance

Malheur County has seen a spike in recent new COVID-19 cases. While we support the gradual reopening of Malheur County business and public life, we urge everyone to follow the precautions and guidance that will keep our community safe. Find more on how to protect yourself here. Find Spanish guidance on how to protect yourself here.

Keep up to date with the state guidance for Phase 2 of Reopening Oregon below and find more guidance that applies statewide at coronavirus.oregon.gov.

We commemorate Juneteenth as day of freedom

The American Public Health Association and the Malheur County Health Department join with millions of Americans in commemorating Juneteenth on Friday, June 19.

This observance — which marks the day in 1865 that enslaved people in Texas were notified of their freedom and celebrates the end of slavery in the U.S. — serves as a reminder to advance racial equity in health care, education, employment, housing and justice. Ultimately, Juneteenth is a celebration of freedom that touches us all.

This occasion is even more significant during this watershed moment in our history, when millions of us are standing up in unison against racism and law enforcement violence against black Americans. We are united by our resolve to change course so tomorrow’s America is one where equality is not simply a catch phrase.

We must dedicate our efforts and resources to confront and dismantle a system of oppression that for too long has stained the country. Racism is an ongoing public health crisis that needs our attention now. Learn more from the American Public Health Association at apha.org.

COVID-19 Case Count 42; Over 1,000 Completed Tests

Today, Malheur County Health Department announced four new lab-confirmed positive COVID-19 cases, bringing the total to 42. The new cases include two males and two females, three aged 19 or younger and one over age 80. The total number of people who have recovered is 32.

There are currently 6,218 positive cases reported in Oregon, a significant rise in the last couple weeks. With outbreaks across the state, the risk of additional cases in Malheur County increases.

We encourage everyone to be patient and continue following the precautionary measures that help reduce the spread of COVID-19. Learn more at Safe + Strong, which has valuable information available in several languages. Call our office at 541-889-7279 with questions.

COVID-19 ASL Resources

Did you know Oregon Deaf and Hard of Hearing Services has published a page of ASL coronavirus resources?

During this pandemic, Deaf and hard of hearing people may have more challenges than usual with:

  • job loss or reduction in income because of layoffs and closures
  • basic communication, as many people’s faces are covered with masks
  • social isolation and mental/emotional stress from staying at home
  • stress from fear of exposure to COVID-19, or getting COVID-19 and trying to communicate with health care workers wearing PPE

The COVID-19 ASL page includes:

  • Links to ASL videos about COVID-19
  • Communication resources
  • Emergency resources (e.g., food, housing)
  • Mental health and resources for emotional well-being
  • More resources for people with disabilities are also available at www.healthoregon.org/coronavirus under “Community Resources for Specific Groups.”
  • Communication cards available, including a new one designed to help people who are deaf and hard of hearing communicate about COVID-19 symptoms: http://ow.ly/ISud50zTM4p
    • The card includes graphics about symptoms and duration and is intended for someone who is deaf or hard of hearing to use to communicate when they think it’s most appropriate.