Itemizer-Observer

POLK COUNTY — COVID-19 case counts have seen a significant increase in recent days, with 49 new cases reported since July 20.

As of Monday, Polk County had 254 cases of COVID-19 since the beginning of the pandemic. Twelve people have died. The most recent death occurred on May 28.

Acting Public Health Administrator Jacqui Umstead said the increase isn’t connected to an outbreak at a specific place.

“It’s more community spread, similar to most other counties, just our numbers are going up,” Umstead said Monday.

Polk’s percentage of positive tests is now 5 percent, which is about the same as the state of Oregon’s average of 4.8 percent.

Umstead said the county has a contract with Western Oregon University for contact tracing, and has 10 interns on duty for that purpose. The county has three or four case investigators working on gathering information on positive cases in the county. They are now working seven days a week on the task.

Case investigations are conducted after someone has tested positive for COVID-19, Umstead said. 

“That is when we are calling to interview the positive case, so someone who has been diagnosed with COVID-19,” she said. “We ask a host of questions.”

The state provides a script for the interview, so the same information is being sought from each person who tests positive.

“Generally, we are trying to figure out how did this person get COVID-19,” Umstead said. “Were they in close contact with another positive case? Is there someone in their family? Did they go to an event? We try to look back at the previous couple of weeks to see if we can figure out where they might have gotten it.”

She said many times, the source of the infection isn’t found.

“They don’t know anyone (with COVID-19), they didn’t go anywhere specific where other people were sick or at a big event,” Umstead said. “So, they are just positive.”

The interviewer then asks about medical history and explains what COVID-19 is and how it is transmitted. Interviewers describe self-isolation as a way the person can prevent further spread, and ask about close contacts the person has had.

A close contact is defined as someone that has spent 15 or more minutes within six feet of a person who has tested positive.

“So, most of the time, it’s household members. And just depending on what that person has been doing, it expands from there. It could include friends. It could include coworkers,” Umstead said. “We get a list of all of those people.”

At that point, contact tracers go to work.

“We enter that information into a database and what it does is it takes all those contacts and sends them into a different database,” Umstead said. “Our contact tracing team, accesses that database and they will reach out to the contact and do an interview.”

The interview for a contact or a “person under monitoring” is not as extensive as a case interview.

“With contact tracing it’s general information and education,” Umstead said.

They ask the person to self-isolate for 14 days since their last contact with the person who has tested positive. A person under monitoring will be contacted daily.

“With contact tracing we are checking in with someone every day for however long we need to, and we are asking them do you have any symptoms? If so, what are your symptoms?” Umstead said.

Testing is not recommended unless the person being monitored develops symptoms.

“What happens is the test is a point-in-time test. Because the incubation period of COVID-19 is two to 14 days, if you get tested on day four after you’ve been exposed, you may not have it then, but that doesn’t mean you are not going to develop it on day 10, 11, 12, 13 or 14.”

Umstead said people need to follow prevention measures to bring the case counts down in Polk County, including practicing physical distancing and hand washing.

“I would avoid getting yourself into a situation where you are in crowds of people. That increases your exposure. If you are sick,  stay home,” Umstead said. “We all have to make those choices for ourselves every day and it’s hard.”

For more information on cases in Polk County, go to Polk County Public Health’s COVID-19 information page at www.co.polk.or.us/ph/novel-coronavirus-covid-19.

Polk County COVID-19 cases increasing

July 20 — 1

July 21 — 3

July 22 — 4

July 23 — 13

July 24 — 6

July 25 — 11

July 26 — 2

July 27 — 9

Current hospitalizations (as of July 24): 3

Total deaths: 12

Total hospitalizations: 20

Total recoveries (as of July 24): 111

Total cases: 254

Negative tests: 4,274

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