By Dick Hughes
For the Capital Bureau
SALEM -- Oregon officials will begin releasing more data about the march of the coronavirus pandemic.
Gov. Kate Brown told reporters during a conference call on Wednesday that she has ordered the Oregon Health Authority to share “all COVID-19 information with the public that does not compromise patient privacy.” That includes more exact age ranges of patients, hospitalization status, and the number of available hospital beds and ventilators for COVID-19 patients. Legislators, journalists and others have asked repeatedly for data that track the current situation. The OHA only had been releasing cumulative data from Jan. 24, plus daily updates on confirmed cases, testing and deaths.
Oregon House Republicans sent Brown a letter responding to her statewide executive order issued Monday that closes more businesses and imposes greater social distancing restrictions.
“While we broadly support this action, we also believe it comes with an obligation on behalf of the Governor’s office to ensure this order is bolstered with additional access to information in order to be carried out in a clear and transparent manner,” the letter said.
The state representatives asked that Brown provide legislators and the public with “a clear data-based standard” for making changes to the executive order and “additional information on health care system capacity, with regular updates on COVID-19 hospitalizations including patient acuity data and recovery rates to ensure executive and legislative actions are responsive to maintaining systemwide resilience and readiness.”
“With this, we urge an approach that continues to protect public health while limiting harm to the economy, by communicating with the public that these are temporary measures that will be re-evaluated within a clear framework as circumstances change,” the letter said.
On Wednesday, Brown announced that Oregon hospitals had 2,028 available non-ICU beds, 394 available ICU beds and 608 available ventilators. “And there will be more information coming soon,” she said.
In its regular daily report, OHA said two more COVID-19 patients have died, bringing the state’s toll to 10.
Both victims tested positive on one day for COVID-19 and died the next, and both had underlying conditions. They were identified as an 80-year-old woman in Clackamas County, who died Tuesday at Legacy Mt. Hood Medical Center, and a 73-year-old woman in Marion County, who died Monday at Salem Hospital.
Since Jan. 24, 286 people in Oregon have tested positive for COVID-19. Of those, 75 were hospitalized, 135 were not and data were unavailable for the remainder.
So far, 5,742 people have been tested in Oregon, with less than 5% being positive for the coronavirus.
OHA’s Jonathan Modie has said no data are available on what illness the others had but said it could have been the flu or a cold. He noted, “There are at least seven human coronaviruses that collectively cause 15% to 20% of common colds.”
The flu is still circulating in Oregon but the number of cases has been trending downward since peaking in mid-January.
People reporting mild COVID-like symptoms often are not tested but are told to stay home and follow medical guidelines until they no longer are contagious.
Brown and Modie said the number of detected cases will rise as testing expands.
A shortage of swabs has impeded testing, but Brown said the State Public Health Laboratory received 4,000 swabs from the federal government this week.
The state lab has tested about 1,500 people since Feb. 28. Federal, clinical and commercial labs have done the remainder. Among area hospital systems, Brown said, Legacy and Kaiser now are processing tests in-house. State officials report that COVID-like symptoms make up a small proportion of visits to hospital emergency rooms, but the percentage has been increasing.