Malheur County Health Department Director Sarah Poe urged residents to take the threat from the virus seriously and to institute any and all social distancing measures immediately. Poe also said as more testing becomes available, more people will test positive for the virus.
The Malheur County Health Department announced Sunday a local resident tested positive for the COVID-19 virus. (The Enterprise/File).
ONTARIO – Malheur County health officials announced Sunday the first laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 virus case in the county.
In a press release early Sunday afternoon, the Malheur County Health Department reported that a man in his 20s from Malheur County tested positive for the virus. Health authorities don’t release identities or other detailed information such as area of residence to protect a patient’s privacy.
For weeks, as the COVID-19 virus outbreak expanded in other parts of Oregon, Malheur County reported no cases, although officials have been anticipating the virus would appear. Limited testing has given health officials a limited ability to detect and track the virus, said Sarah Poe, Malheur County Health Department director.
“We’ve tested 43 out of over 30,000. That’s why it is so important to self-isolate,” said Poe.
Poe said she expects more testing to become available over the coming days and she cautioned as more tests are conducted more people will be found infected with COVID-19.
Health officials say that an estimated 80% of those infected will have mild symptoms and can recover at home.
The Malheur County report came after the Oregon Health Authority posted its updated report on coronavirus cases in Oregon. The data, from Sunday morning, listed 548 people infected with 13 deaths. The state data showed 49 people age 20 to 29 have been infected with four requiring hospitalization.
In Malheur County, the state reported that 36 tests for COVID-19 have come back negative. Statewide, there have been 10,878 negative tests.
Cases have now been reported in 25 counties, including Union, Grant and Morrow but to date no infections have been detected in Harney or Baker counties.
In Idaho, there are currently 261 COVID-19 cases and five deaths.
Poe said the first confirmed COVID-19 virus case in Malheur County means the malady is circulating locally.
“We know there is spread. We know there are sick,” said Poe.
That means, she said, the overall strategy to battle the outbreak has changed.
“The goal is not that no one gets it but to slow it down as much as possible,” said Poe.
That is why, Poe said, residents should not dismiss the virus.
“I need people to understand how serious this is. This isn’t like the flu. The mortality rate is about 11 times that of the flu,” said Poe.
Poe said people should “go about their lives as if they have the virus.”
“And for God’s sake, if you are sick, don’t go to work. If you are sick at all we ask you to isolate, even from your family at home. We have to slow this down,” said Poe.
Poe said the health department will investigate the local man’s personal contacts during the next few days. At the same time, she said, her office is also working with Southwest District Health in Idaho to follow up on the contacts of a Payette County woman who tested positive for COVID-19 last week.
The woman is employed by RVP Construction, an Ontario company specializing in countertops.
The company, based at 4830 Bellows Dr. in Ontario, reported on its Facebook page March 24 that eight other employees had “similar illnesses.” Health officials said last week the woman in her 20s reportedly “experienced mild symptoms and recovered at home.”
State records show the firm has been licensed in Oregon since 1993.
Poe said last week the households of the individuals who had contact with the positive case have been quarantined.
“We have to presume there are many more cases in the county already,” said Poe.
Symptoms to watch are the same, said Poe, including cough, high fever and shortness of breath.
“If you are having trouble breathing, call 911,” said Poe.
The state also announced today models illustrate that “aggressive interventions” such as Gov. Kate Brown’s Stay Home, Save Lives, are predicted to decrease the number of infections in Oregon.
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