Oregon Capital Bureau

PORTLAND  Oregon on Friday reported a record-breaking 457 new COVID-19 cases, sparking concern of a new spike in infections and deaths.

"We find ourselves at another crossroads — those are discouraging numbers," said Pat Allen, director of the Oregon Health Authority, during a Friday press conference.

The Labor Day holiday, the return of students to college campuses in Eugene and Corvallis, a workplace outbreak and a barbecue in Clatsop County, a prayer meeting, a sewing circle and workplace clusters were among the reasons for the rising numbers, health officials said. 

Allen said there were no imminent widespread actions that the state will take to combat the uptick. Unlike the last major spike that began in June, medical care for COVID-19 has advanced and officials have a better understanding of how the virus spreads.  

"I wouldn’t say there is an automatic next thing or a one size fits all," he said.

But Allen said all options, including rollbacks of the phased reopening of counties, were "on the table" if the case count continues rising.

"We’ve all worked too hard beating back the tide of the virus to let that happen," he said.

Allen encouraged Oregonians to make sure they are following key actions to avoid the virus: Wear a mask when with others, keep at least 6 feet apart, wash your hands frequently, and try to limit the number of people you are with at any given time.

Allen said the rise in infections was "discouraging" for hopes that more school districts could have in-class teaching.

Allen confirmed that at least three school districts in the state have reported COVID-19 cases. The Brookings-Harbor School District on the southern Oregon coast announced Sunday that it had a confirmed exposure at Kalmiopsis Elementary School. In-class teaching was suspended on Monday. OHA has declined to identify the other school districts.

Despite the spike in cases and reports of clusters at the University of Oregon and Oregon State University, Gov. Kate Brown is expected to give final approval to Pac-12 football games — without fans in attendance — in Eugene and Corvallis, according to Dr. Dean Sidelinger, the state's top infectious disease expert. Games could start as early as Nov. 6.

The 457 new cases topped the previous record of 430 cases on July 19. Oregon has reported 32,314 cases this year. 

The numbers mirror a rise nationwide in infections. The Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center reported Friday that there have been over seven million cases in the United States, with more than 203,500 deaths. Worldwide, there have been 32.3 million cases and over 985,000 deaths.

Johns Hopkins reported that Oregon's positive test rate over the past week was 8%. That is less than the record 12.4% in March soon after the coronavirus was first reported in the state. Oregon health officials have said anything above 5% could set off an exponential rise in cases.

Oregon had the lowest coronavirus testing percentage of any state over the past week at 0.8 per 1,000 residents, the center reported. Oregon officials say the wildfires that burned over a million acres have disrupted testing capability and statistical gathering across the state.

While having the 8th lowest overall number of infections per capita of the 50 states, Oregon's infection rate over the past 14 days has risen 38%, according to a New York Times analysis of local and state health data.

The Times reported Oregon has had 280 cases at 15 universities and colleges. Oregon Health and Science University in Portland has 127 cases, the University of Oregon in Eugene has 59 cases and Oregon State University in Corvallis has 52 cases. All other campuses have fewer than 10 cases.

Clatsop County reported 73 new cases Friday, the largest count in Oregon. Sidelinger said the outbreak at Pacific Seafood and an after-hours barbecue held by employees of a company he declined to identify had driven cases up in the county.

Multnomah County — which includes Portland — was second at 62 cases. Other large totals were reported by Marion County (58), Washington County (51), and Lane County (50).

Leann Johnson, OHA Director of the Office of Equity and Inclusion, announced that the state will partner with 206 organizations and tribal governments on a $45 million grant program to address "the disproportionate impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on Oregon’s communities of color."

The grants come from federal CARES Act money that the Legislature's Emergency Board had previously allocated for such purposes. 

The state has added a new resource for mental health and other issues. Go to safestrongoregon.org or call 800-923-4357. Information is available in 12 languages.

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