Public health: “We’re back in surge mode”


Lincoln County Public Health Director Rebecca Austen told the Lincoln County Board of Commissioners on Monday the health department is now in “surge mode,” after receiving a large number of positive COVID-19 test results following problems with the state pandemic reporting system.

Austen told the board the “Oregon Pandemic Emergency Response Application,” developed by the Oregon Health Authority during the summer to facilitate the flood of data collected and reported in connection with the COVID-19 pandemic, had started experiencing database problems and “locking up,” overwhelmed by the recent surge in cases statewide. Results were not being reported for submitted lab samples. “We don’t know anymore what cases are positive,” she said.

She said they’d received some results, but some were missing, and they’d experienced a deluge of cases reported by the system today — 14. “We’re back in surge mode,” Austen said. The health authority reported seven cases in the county on Friday, four on Saturday and one on Sunday. The state reported three in Lincoln County today, while the local health department reported eight, minus two due to “data reconciliation,” prior to Austen’s report of at least 14 to the board. She said she doesn’t know if more positives will show up.

“We’re in a bit of a bind here. I think it's safe to say that the data that we do have is under-representing the cases that we have,” Austen said. “If anything, I think we can just assume that things are getting a little out of control across the country, and Oregon is not an exception, and we need to hunker down and do a really good job of keeping our distance, unfortunately, wearing our masks, washing our hands, staying home if we’re sick. All of those things are really crucial, and right now, I don’t think people are making really great decisions.”

Although the county’s recent free testing events only produced six positive results out of 1,140 people tested, Austen said, the most recent results of sewage testing in Newport through the OSU TRACE project found increased levels of COVID-19 in the community.

Austen said that while most of her report sounded grim, the good news was that the health department was much better prepared to deal with a surge than during the outbreak in June. "We know so much more about COVID. The staff are feeling much more confident about the message we need to deliver to people who are positive and to contacts, and we have a great group of people that are hanging in there and working hard."

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