SALEM, Ore. — Nearly 30 Woodburn residents have tested positive for COVID-19 since April 24, showing the virus continues to spread in one of the most vulnerable populations of Marion County.
Over half of Marion County residents who got a positive test back between April 25 and April 27 live in Woodburn, according to a Salem Reporter analysis of Marion County data. Woodburn makes up less than 10% of the county’s population.
Katrina Rothenberger, administrator of the county Health Department said last week that an increase over the previous weekend in people testing positive for COVID-19 was concentrated in the Woodburn and Gervais areas in north Marion County.
That trend is continuing, the latest numbers show, and the health department still hasn’t identified a cluster or common factor to explain the increase in those newly testing positive, spokeswoman Jenna Wyatt said.
"We do find the trend concerning, and are doing all we can to target our outreach and communication efforts to areas where we are seeing an increase in cases. We are also investigating ways to increase testing in these areas. We want to see a downward trend in cases in all of our communities,” Wyatt said in an email.
Marion County has 12 workers investigating cases to trace contacts of those known to be infected and is working to hire 12 more, Wyatt said.
Across Oregon, Latinos have disproportionately tested positive for COVID-19, making up 27% of cases but just 13% of the state's population. Woodburn's population is about half Latino, nearly double the county average.
The county collects employer information from people testing positive, but won't release information about how many are farmworkers.
Woodburn is the center of the region’s farmworker population, and has a lower household income than Marion County as a whole, according to Census data.
That combination means many people are working essential jobs in agriculture where social distancing is difficult or impossible and often can’t afford to miss work unless they’re seriously ill, said Enrique Ruiz, field and data manager for PCUN, Oregon’s farmworker union.
“A lot of the restaurants and farms are not providing protective gear for the workers and it’s putting them in a dangerous spot,” he said.
Health care providers said those who come in for testing often wait until they get a positive result back before isolating at home.
“A lot of it is they can’t afford to miss work,” said Lori Kelley, senior director of quality at Yakima Valley Farm Workers Clinic, which operates the Salud Medical Center in Woodburn.
“If a person needs their paycheck and they aren’t able to work remotely, it could be very challenging to take two extra days to self-isolate,” she said.
The Farm Workers Clinic is headquartered in Yakima, Washington, and operates clinics across Oregon and Washington. Kelley said in general, they’ve seen higher rates of people test positive for COVID-19 in agricultural areas where jobs can’t be done remotely and distancing at work is difficult.
Data for the rest of Marion County shows comparably few new cases.
From April 25 to 27, about 14 residents in the five ZIP codes that make up Salem tested positive for COVID-19. That area has six times Woodburn’s population.
Marion County last week began releasing the rate of infection in each county ZIP code, but not the actual number of people testing positive. Salem Reporter used Census population figures to calculate an approximate number of residents in each ZIP code who have tested positive for the virus.
A state report released Tuesday showed few of the new cases of COVID-19 occurring in nursing homes. They had been a source of high counts of infections, including at The Oaks at Sherwood Park in Keizer and Marian Estates in Sublimity.
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This article was originally published by the Salem Rerports, one of more than a dozen news organizations throughout the state sharing their coverage of the novel coronavirus outbreak to help inform Oregonians about this evolving health issue.