Polk County Courthouse

Polk County is making an effort to increase broadband services in rural areas outside of city limits. 


POLK COUNTY — Polk County officially opened Friday, but the work to continue to fight the spread of the coronavirus is not over.

On May 19, the day before the county heard that it was approved by Gov. Kate Brown for reopening, the Polk County Board of Commissioners met to receive updates from local public health administrator Kristty Polanco and Dean Bender, the county’s emergency manager.

Polanco updated the board on the county’s active surveillance with Oregon Health Authority, which means tracking down the cases that are classified as presumptive, which means they are connected to a case and experiencing two or more symptoms, but are awaiting testing.

As of 8 a.m. Monday, Oregon has 3,949 coronavirus cases, with 148 deaths. As of Friday, the county has 95 cases, with 10 deaths and two hospitalizations.

“Since May 1, we have been doing active surveillance with cases and their contacts,” Polanco said. “So we have to do daily check-ins with their contacts of positive cases. We are working with internal public health staff to pilot a google form to do a secure email and also access to do secure texting to facilitate that process for the contacts. For the time being, we are still calling people daily. If they experience symptoms then we have to facilitate the process for them to get tested.”

When Gov. Brown began to open counties for Phase 1, she warned that there could be a spike in cases.

The county will start contact tracing training 11 employees to handle the possible increase.

“Folks we have identified in the county who have been reshifted within the county because they can’t do their normal jobs because of the constraints — county employees,” Polanco said.  “To train these folks to get ready for a surge.”

At the meeting last week, the county hadn’t received official training from OHA, so Polanco said they were moving forward with training from Johns Hopkins.

However, “a few hours after my presentation the OHA announced its training, so we will use theirs,” Polanco said on Thursday afternoon. “The first round of folks will be trained Friday.”

For long term-contact tracing, Polanco said they are exploring a contract with WOU, as well as other partnerships, which includes Oregon State University extension services.

She said the support from the community has been positive.

“We have got tremendous support from the community wanting to help with contact tracing so we are grateful for that,” she said. “And … we will find ways to include community members that are wanting to help. There have to be some processes we have to walk through because of HIPAA and all these other things so those are considerations, yet I want to acknowledge that we’ve had huge community support.”

As of now, The county will be working on providing 50 to 60 tests per week, depending on what it can get from the state.

“Based on my own assessment, the testing capacity for the region, which includes Yamhill, Polk, Lincoln, Benton, Marion and Linn counties, is 500 currently, but this does not include all healthcare entities in the region,” Polanco said.

West Valley Hospital also received the Abbott Test machine for rapid testing, which is a molecular test to identify COVID-19 in individuals.

“It looks like with the new Abbott tests going live as of June 1, we will be up to 1,340 tests per week. That’s with West Valley and Northwest Human Services,” Polanco said.

She said West Valley will add to the Abbott Test to their emergency department, and also testing for people who are going into surgeries.

“We’re going to start having conversations on how we can start amplifying that,” she said.

Bender reported to the board on the supplies the county has received.

“Last week we received from the Oregon National Guard an additional 5,000 face shields, 9,400 surgical masks, and 100 small gloves, those are one of those things that are high priority,” he said.

“And when you say 100, those are boxes?” Commissioner Craig Pope asked.

“No, those are gloves,” Bender said.

Other supplies the county received included 2,771 small containers of sanitizers, 168 gallon-sized sanitizer, 100 goggles.

The county has 4,825 N-95 masks.

Additionally, he has been in contact with the Oregon National Guard about providing face masks for migrant field workers.

“This is going to open a little can of worms but we’re going to work through it,” Bender said.

“We want to know how we want to distribute this stuff. I was thinking it should go through the farm bureau or some other avenue, but then after talking to them it will be a big shipment coming here, who’s going to manage them?” Bender said. “So does somebody else do it, or do we want to do it? Because whatever else doesn’t go out it becomes our property that we can give out. I want to make sure it goes out to the right people and doesn’t get abused. And so I’d like to see some checks and balances in place for that, but either way that whole thing, we are working on it.”

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