PORTLAND, Ore. — As the coronavirus outbreak spreads across Oregon, many people are left to wonder if there are positive cases near them.
Some local and state governments publish detailed lists of confirmed coronavirus cases down to the ZIP code or neighborhood; Oregon does not. Instead, state health officials release daily numbers by county.
This lack of specific data makes it difficult to assess which communities are being hardest hit, information that could help first responders and health care workers.
“When they see patients from a certain ZIP code or a certain area they will take more precautions,” said Chunhuei Chi, director of the Center for Global Health at Oregon State University.
For example, residents in Los Angeles can look on a website to find out how many confirmed coronavirus cases there are in their neighborhood.
Health officials in South Carolina agreed to release figures by ZIP code earlier this week.
Charlotte, North Carolina provides a map of its coronavirus cases by ZIP code, along with Syracuse, New York.
King County, Washington posted heat maps broken down by ZIP code.
A spokesperson for the Oregon Health Authority said the state does not have test results broken out at the ZIP code level.
Multnomah County said it is working to develop information to help the public understand what is happening, but didn’t explain why more specific data isn’t available.
The data could be used to help plan and allocate emergency resources within the community.
“The information would be more valuable for health care providers than for the general public,” said Chi.
Chi warns specific data could be misinterpreted by the public. Certain people, groups or neighborhoods might be unfairly stigmatized.
“People begin to be suspicious of who in our neighborhood is infected,” Chi explained.
The information could also give people a false sense of security, because they don’t see cases in their ZIP codes. This is especially true with coronavirus because those who are infected don’t always show symptoms and aren’t always tested. As a result, people with coronavirus might not even show up on a map broken down by ZIP codes or neighborhoods.