LINCOLN COUNTY — While the origin of all coronavirus cases in the county is not known, the vast majority of local transmission is tied to outbreaks.
Lincoln County Public Health Director Rebecca Austen told the Lincoln County Board of Commissioners during its regular meeting on Monday that 73 percent of COVID-19 cases in Lincoln County are linked to outbreaks — at least two cases in different households tied to a specific event/location — and 13.5 percent are household members of known positive cases. Another 13.5 percent are “sporadic,” otherwise referred to as community spread, and the health department does not know where those people acquired the virus.
However, Austen said, it’s unlikely the health department would be notified if an out-of-county visitor tested positive, even if contact tracing in their home county revealed they’d stayed at a local hotel. The only time that has happened is a few occasions when tourists have voluntarily contacted Lincoln County Public Health to report they’d visited from out of the area, and someone in their group had later tested positive, Austen said.
Austen presented commissioners with a chart produced by health department staff illustrating how four actual cases in the county spread the virus to 58 other people in a matter of weeks. Three of those cases infected were the source of 10 confirmed workplace outbreaks — 39 positive cases — and an investigation is still pending into whether the fourth case also led to workplace exposure.
The Oregon Health Authority’s weekly COVID-19 report published July 15 (tinyurl.com/ycnohzc6), which includes workplace outbreaks of five or more cases where more than 30 people are employed, names five such outbreaks in Lincoln County, two of which are now listed as “resolved.” An outbreak is considered resolved if no new cases are identified for 28 days. Between active and resolved, 214 positive cases in the county are associated with these outbreaks. Based on the case study chart Austen shared with commissioners, at least five outbreaks in the county have not been identified by place of business, presumably because they do not meet the five-case threshold for reporting by the health authority.
Visitors as a source of transmission was relevant to another item on the board’s agenda — the question of whether to extend, modify or remove the current 24-hour hold required before hotel rooms and short-term rentals can be cleaned for new guests. Austen told commissioners current science said that, in the event that a previous guest was positive for COVID-19, aerosolized virus could remain in the air for up to three hours. The board eventually voted to extend the 24-hour hold requirement for an additional 30 days, until Aug. 18. Most jurisdictions that initially implemented similar regulations have since reduced them.
The health department director also shared some troubling news about local efforts to combat transmission. “We have fewer and fewer resources at our fingertips now to mitigate the spread of this disease,” Austen said. She said the department’s original plan of test, trace and isolate had been hampered by a new testing shortage — with large outbreaks happening in places like Texas and Florida, testing resources were being diverted to those locations, Austen said.
“What we have left is wearing face coverings, keeping 6 feet distance and washing our hands,” she said.