Katrina Rothenberger, incident commander, sits for an interview in the COVID-19 incident command at the Marion County Health and Human Services office on Monday, July 13. (Amanda Loman/Salem Reporter)
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Some of the mystery about where Marion County residents are getting infected with Covid has been resolved enough to get the county off the state’s watch list – a sort of public health “Most Wanted” designation.
Ryan Matthews, an administrator at the county Health and Human Services department, said the key to getting off the list was a drop in sporadic transmission in the previous two weeks, cases that can’t be traced to a known source.
The inability to trace a significant portion of infections led to Brown putting the county on the list. Matthews said case investigators dug back into county files on existing cases and belatedly connected more than 30 cases to small social gatherings.
That in turn brought the county’s sporadic transmission rate below 50 cases per 100,000 people, the threshold determined by the state.
The county saw 166 sporadic cases in the last two weeks, a rate of 47.7 cases per 100,000 people, according to state data.
Still, Marion County, with 350,000 residents, is currently only meeting three out of six public health indicators determined by the Oregon Health Authority.
The number of new cases in the past week jumped 21% - more than four times what the state considers as healthy. In that period, the county reported 335 new cases and has seen a total of 3,425 cases since the pandemic began.
It’s also in an uptrend for the percent of positive cases, currently around 9.6% of tests come back positive, according to county data. The state average is 5.4%.
Matthews said the county has been working closely with OHA since the pandemic began and didn’t need state resources after it made it on the watch list.
“Now that we are longer on the list, we will continue to work with partners to share important information about COVID-19 prevention, develop strategies to bolster testing in our community, and onboard more contact tracers to quickly identify individuals who may have been exposed,” he said in an email.
Matthews also said the county is looking at additional ways to study data to ensure its directing resources efficiently and pinpointing factors leading to increased transmission.
Marion County Commissioner Kevin Cameron said county residents won’t see a change as a result of being taken off the watch list.
“It doesn’t change our responsibility to educate, encourage and lead by example for people to protect themselves,” he said.
Cameron said the county plans to request help from OHA for testing events in areas that have a higher concentration of the virus.
“OHA stands ready to assist Marion County or any other whether they’re on the watch list or not,” OHA spokesman Phillip Schmidt said in an email.
The governor also removed Wasco County from the watch list, but added Jackson County. Currently, eight counties are on the watch list.
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