Earlier this month in Douglas County, one person who was sick went to work, and later tested positive for the coronavirus.
Within two weeks, that one action led to two subsequent outbreaks. The first killed at least seven people, nearly 20% of the county’s total COVID fatalities since the pandemic began. The second forced more than 300 people into quarantine.
The county would not say where the person worked, but Douglas County county officials are calling such decisions “super spreader actions,” and they’re sounding the alarm to prevent more from happening.
It’s a nuanced twist on super spreader events, where people knowingly ignore public health guidance to gather in large groups, said Bob Dannenhoffer, public health officer in the county. With super spreader actions, it can boil down to one person’s choices.
“The latest and most concerning trend is that we are seeing cases where residents are choosing to go to work and school when they are still sick,” he said in a statement. “We can’t even imagine the tremendous remorse these people are feeling right now, and we sympathize with them.”
On Monday, the state reported 846 new cases, the lowest Oregon has seen per day in more than three weeks and a continuation of an approximately two-week decline in average new weekly infections. The count was still about twice as large as case counts during Oregon’s first major peak, in July, but Gov. Kate Brown said on Tuesday that the encouraging numbers were in part the result of hard choices many Oregonians made to stay home and keep gatherings small around the Thanksgiving holiday.
“There is evidence that our two-week freeze and the safety measures we have taken since then have blunted the virus surge we were all dreading as we entered the Thanksgiving holiday,” Brown said at a news conference, noting that more difficult choices lie ahead.
“As you did with Thanksgiving,” she said, “I am asking once again that you rethink your Christmas and New Years plans.”
Douglas County spent the early days of the pandemic with relatively few cases, but Southern Oregon has not been immune from the recent spike in cases seen around the state and across the nation. In the first eight months of the pandemic, Douglas County reported 623 cases of the virus. They’ve had 635 in the last month alone.
“It has been a very troubling month with COVID in our county,” Dannenhoffer said. “While our new cases are finally trending down, the day-to-day positive tests numbers and especially death numbers are worrisome. When we look at these cases, there is nothing fancy or special about them. There is nothing that you have not heard before. They are related to individual choices to attend gatherings, family gatherings, sports gatherings and lots and lots of parties.”
One of those parties took place on Halloween, when a group of roughly 50 people from a fraternal organization with an average age in the mid-60s got together to celebrate. At least half the group ended up contracting the virus, according to emails obtained by The Oregonian/OregonLive.
“Some of these cases were subsequently part of new outbreaks including several local businesses, among a group of retired people who dwell in a trailer park community and resulted in the closure of the local high school,” Dannenhoffer wrote in a Nov. 17 email. “The event also caused two hospitalizations.”
— Kale Williams; [email protected]; 503-294-4048; @sfkale