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Outbreak in Eastern Oregon’s Union County leads to 218 COVID-19 cases reported in two days

The two-day total of 218 new coronavirus cases comes after the county reported just 22 total known cases during the pandemic prior to this week.

PORTLAND, Ore. — Another 119 COVID-19 cases were reported in Union County on Tuesday, a day after the rural Eastern Oregon County reported 99 cases.

The two-day total of 218 new coronavirus cases comes after the county reported just 22 total known cases during the pandemic prior to this week.

Officials with the Center for Human Development (CHD) in La Grande said a number of cases have been associated with Lighthouse United Pentecostal Church, which recently hosted a testing clinic. On Monday, officials stopped short of linking all the cases to the church because testing was open to the general public. On Tuesday, they said the church is taking appropriate steps to ensure the safety of their congregation.

"Our mission has never been clearer and we are doing everything possible to protect the health and safety of our community," Carrie Brogoitti, public health administrator for CHD, said in a statement on Tuesday. "Right now, more than ever we need our community to work together to help limit the spread of this virus and protect our most vulnerable populations."

Thomas Jeanne, deputy state epidemiologist with the Oregon Health Authority, said the outbreak is the largest so far in the state. There have been five hospitalizations in connection with the outbreak. Jeanne noted hospitalizations tend to lag behind case numbers.

The La Grande Observer reports the church held services prior to the county entering Phase 1, defying Gov. Kate Brown’s stay-home order. Videos of those services showed dozens gathering and not practicing social distancing or wearing face coverings, according to The Observer. The newspaper also reports the church recently held a wedding and graduation ceremony with at least 100 people at each event. 

Health officials said a total of 365 people in Union County were tested. On Monday, officials said they expected an increase in cases but were “surprised” by the large number of positive tests.

Union County residents are being told to avoid social gatherings, maintain at least six feet of distance between others, wash their hands, wear face coverings and stay home if they feel sick.

The Center for Human Development is working on interviewing people who tested positive and identifying people who they were in close contact with. They’ll call people identified as close contacts, which officials say is defined as anyone within six feet of an individual for more than 15 minutes. The CHD has five contact tracers and is receiving help from 10 tracers with the OHA. 

People are being told to quarantine for 14 days in the following situations:

  • Tested positive for COVID-19: Quarantine for 14 days from the date of the test.
  • Close contact of a positive case: Quarantine from the date last known of being a close contact, even if a subsequent test comes back negative.
  • Anyone with symptoms of COVID-19: Symptoms include fever or chills, cough, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, fatigue, muscle or body aches, headache, new loss of taste or smell, sore throat, congestion or runny nose, nausea or vomiting, and diarrhea.

Anyone who feels they may be sick should call their health care provider to learn what to do next.

Union County is home to nearly 27,000 people, according to the U.S. Census, and is one of 29 counties in Gov. Brown’s Phase 2 reopening plan. Included in the second phase of reopening is increased gathering limits, extended restaurant and bar hours and reopening of pools, movie theaters, bowling allies and arcades. The OHA said it’s too early to know what impact the outbreak will have on the county’s reopening status. They'll assess the situation and provide data to Gov. Kate Brown, who will ultimately make the decision

RELATED: These 29 Oregon counties have been approved for Phase 2 of reopening

According to data from the OHA, about 22% of tests conducted in Union County have come back with positive results, well above the statewide average of 3%.

The spike in Union County has contributed to the two highest daily coronavirus case counts in Oregon during the pandemic. There were 278 cases reported statewide on Tuesday, and 184 cases reported on Monday. Oregon has reported at least 100 new known COVID-19 cases in eight of the past 10 days. The state had previously reported 100 new known cases in a day once before, on April 4.

As a result of the uptick in cases, Gov. Brown put a hold on all reopening applications, including Phase 1 for Multnomah County, through at least Friday to give more time for health officials to evaluate what is contributing to the recent surge. Officials have previously cited multiple potential factors, including the partial reopening of the state, workplace outbreaks and increased testing and contact tracing.

RELATED: What will the COVID-19 pandemic look like in Oregon over the next month? Modeling shows 3 scenarios

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