Tests for the novel coronavirus, or COVID-19, will become more easily accessible for Oregonians this week.
Jonathan Modie, lead communications officer for the Oregon Health Authority Public Health Division and one of the public information officers on the COVID-19 response, said that the Oregon State Public Health Laboratory has received packages Tuesday, March 10, that will allow it to continue its testing and more will arrive Wednesday, March 11. This will provide enough materials to have tests for upwards of 4,800 people.
“That’s good news,” he said. “We also expect clinical labs at a handful of hospitals to go online next week. There are two commercial laboratories that are now offering COVID-19 testing. One is LabCorp and the other is Quest Diagnostics. They are offering testing and clinicians, at their discretion, can take advantage of that opportunity.”
He advised folks to speak with their healthcare providers if they are experiencing or have experienced symptoms and from there clinicians can choose to test patients. It is no longer required clinicians to ask the Oregon Health Authority for approval to test a suspected COVID-19 patient and then to have OHA to request a test from the Centers for Disease Control.
However, the Oregon State Public Health Laboratory wants to ensure that people who are most sick get tested. This includes people who are hospitalized, have evidence of a lower respiratory viral infection or viral pneumonia, or those who test negative for the flu.
“Those are folks who are most sick and we want to make sure they get tested,” he said.
When asked about possible cases in Coos County, Modie said no confirmed cases are being reported at this time.
“I can tell you the situation is changing by the hour,” he said. “COVID-19 is now in the community in Oregon. There is community transmission and is just as likely to happen in Coos County as any of the other counties … We have seven counties so far that have cases and I think we’re expecting more.”
Modie advised that people can take steps now to protect themselves and their family members by washing their hands with soap and water for 20 seconds or use hand sanitizer if soap and water is not available. Of course, covering coughs and sneezes can also prevent the spread of the disease.
“Absolutely stay home if you’re sick and experiencing any symptoms,” he said. “You want to make sure you’re not exposing any others.”
He reminded the public to frequently clean high-touch surfaces such as doorknobs and railings. He also advised that if you are experiencing symptoms to hold off on visiting loved ones in care facilities or nursing facilities.
“Protect those who are most vulnerable and most at risk of severe illness of COVID-19,” he said. “We’re concerned about the more vulnerable populations. These are older adults over 60, people who may be immunocompromised due to a medical condition or due to being treated for a medical condition, at risk of illness because of a chronic disease or underlying condition like heart disease, lung disease or diabetes.”
The Oregon Health Authority is reporting new numbers every day as new test results are announced. It is also putting out information as quickly as possible as it becomes available. To see these updates, visit healthoregon.org/coronavirus.
“Our website continues to add information for the public, guidance for clinicians, and updates on numbers to make sure people are kept apprised of the situation,” he said. “There are people working all hours of the day, often 12- to 16-hour shifts or longer. We are here for the duration.”