Everyone is sick of Covid, but unfortunately, the coronavirus isn’t sick of us. With all the information available from federal, state and local health agencies, we know it can be hard to get an answer to a specific question, so Salem Reporter compiled some basics based on the reader emails we get most often.

If you'd like to poke through all the information the Oregon Health Authority has to offer, this page is a good starting point. Have other questions you'd like to see answered? Email reporter Rachel Alexander at [email protected]

How to get tested for Covid

There are generally three ways for the general public to get a test in Oregon: through your doctor, through a pharmacy or rapid care clinic, or at a mass testing event. 

Nearly all places offering tests in the Salem area currently are using a molecular test, also called a PCR test, which looks for the virus’ genetic material. That test needs to be processed in a lab, which takes several days, but gives more accurate results than rapid tests, which more often give false negatives. There’s more information about different types of tests here.

You may also be able to order a kit online to swab your nose at home and mail back a sample for results.

The Oregon Health Authority has a searchable list of places offering testing online here, including information about ordering a test kit for home use.

If you have symptoms of illness like a cough or fever, you can contact your regular doctor or clinic about getting a test. Most offices will ask about your symptoms and medical history, and may decide to test you for Covid or other illnesses like flu or strep throat.

Some pharmacies and rapid care clinics offer Covid tests by appointment to people without symptoms. In Salem, those include ZOOM Care, Rite Aid and Walgreens, which all require appointments that can be scheduled online.

Marion County is organizing more regular mass testing events, where anyone can wait in their car and get a Covid test for free. Those events will be posted on the county website here. There will be one held at the Oregon State Fairgrounds from 4-7 p.m. Nov. 18.

Katrina Rothenberger, public health division director for the county, said the health department is working with the University of Oregon to set up regular mass testing events at locations around the county which will run from January through August of 2021.

What to do if you have or suspect you have Covid

If you or anyone in your household has a cough, fever, shortness of breath or other symptoms of Covid, you should stay home and not go to work or school, run errands or be near people you don’t live with. If you feel sick and have gotten a Covid test but are waiting for results, you should still stay home to avoid infecting others. The Oregon Health Authority has a guide here on self-quarantining and more information here on what your test results mean.

If you test positive for Covid, someone from the county health department will call you and give you information on how to avoid spreading the virus to others. Oregon has money available to help people who need to stay home from work because they have Covid, and the county can help you get food or other needs taken care of while you stay home. There’s more information about financial help to quarantine here.

Where to find information on Covid outbreaks

Oregon Health Authority’s weekly report, typically published Wednesday afternoons, includes a list of active Covid outbreaks at long-term care facilities, workplaces, schools and child care centers across the state. The Nov. 18 report is here, and an archive of past reports is here under the “data, reports and projections” header.

The rules for listing an outbreak vary. Workplaces are listed if they involve five or more cases, which could include employees as well as people employees live with who got sick. Long-term care facilities are listed if there are at least three cases of Covid in employees or residents, or at least one death. The report does not differentiate between employee and resident cases.

Child care facilities are listed if two or more cases are reported in either children or employees.

Schools offering in-person classes are listed if any student or employee tests positive for Covid and was in the building after being exposed to the virus or while infectious. Schools not open for students would be listed under workplace outbreaks.

Where to find data about Covid locally

Marion County has a data dashboard here which has information about local Covid cases, hospitalizations and deaths, including demographic information about who’s gotten sick, and the ZIP codes with the most cases. As of Nov. 18, the county has recorded 7,829 cases of Covid, 532 people hospitalized and 127 deaths, and tested about 78,000 people.

The county health department also publishes twice-monthly reports here with more detail on where local outbreaks have occurred.

Polk County, which has a much lower rate of Covid, publishes updates case counts for the virus here, with an age breakdown of cases and a list of deaths.

If you’re looking for more detail, the Oregon Health Authority has data dashboards covering a variety of topics including hospitalization rates by region, case counts for all Oregon counties and more here.

Many readers have asked us about common characteristics of people who get sick, like whether they were wearing masks or grocery shopping in person. Unfortunately, there's little local or state data that can answer questions like this. Contact tracing focuses on figuring out where people may have been exposed to Covid, but doesn't track individual behavior in a detailed way that would let health authorities compile a report.

What about presumptive cases of Covid?

Many readers have asked us about presumptive cases of Covid - people who did not test positive for the virus, but have symptoms of illness and have been in close contact with someone known to have Covid.

The number of presumptive cases statewide is reported in OHA’s weekly report, and is currently about 5% of all cases reported statewide (2,591 out of 51,155). Currently, Marion County has reported 7,829 cases of Covid and 7,466 positive tests, leaving 363 cases presumptive - about 4.6% of the total. Presumptive cases have never made up a significant percentage of the total number of reported Covid cases in Oregon.

People presumed to have Covid are encouraged to get a test to confirm the diagnosis. If they test positive, the case is reclassified as confirmed.

Contact reporter Rachel Alexander: [email protected] or 503-575-1241.

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