The decision of Oregon Gov. Kate Brown Thursday to push Umatilla County back into house-to-house status came after she learned of the surprisingly high coronavirus spread in Hermiston that researchers at Oregon State University estimated.
A random sampling of Hermiston residents on weekends found that 41 out of 471 people – or 8.7% – tested positive for coronavirus.
The researchers subsequently calculated that the actual outbreak was 17%, or about 3,000 active infections in a city of nearly 18,000 residents.
“This study confirms what we fear based on weeks of disturbing data from the Oregon Health Authority: The coronavirus has spread throughout Hermiston and is threatening the entire community,” Brown said in a statement.
Brown learned about the results of the study on Thursday at a briefing from top officials at the Oregon Health Authority, who also shared other state-collected data showing recurring problems in Umatilla County.
Coronavirus cases have been selling in Umatilla County for a month and a half, pushing jurisdiction over Oregon’s fourth-largest case despite having the 13th largest resident. Cases also escalated into nearby Morrow County, prompting Brown to push it back to Phase 1 reopening status.
The growth of cases in the Hermiston area was well documented even before the latest study, conducted by Oregon State University as part of projects this month that began in Corvallis before moving to Bend and Newport. State data showed that Hermiston’s 97838 ZIP code has been regularly among the highest number of new cases since June.
“Our results indicate the virus is prevalent in Hermiston and more prevalent than previous data,” Ben Dalziel, an assistant professor and co-director of the project, said in a statement.
It is unclear how many of the 41 people who tested positive during the OSU study were identified as test positive and included in the figures compiled by the Oregon Health Authority. The state has identified 1,902 Umatilla County residents who have confirmed or suspected infections.
Dalziel told Oregonian / OregonLive that participants who submitted test samples were not asked if they had tested or if they had tested positive for COVID-19.
But researchers will ask about symptoms, and four out of five Hermiston residents who tested positive during the OSU project did not report any virus indicators. Participants will be given a swab to collect a sample from their nose.
Researchers also collected samples from sewage, and Boardman in Morrow County, to monitor the spread. They also showed high levels of the virus.
Hermiston mayor David Drotzmann expressed alarm at the findings.
“The results of this study are a significant warning,” he said in a statement. “We have a clearer picture of how many people carry this disease without knowing it, and how quickly family-to-family, household-to-household is spreading.”
– Brad Schmidt; email@example.com; 503-294-7628; @_brad_schmidt
Subscribe to Oregonian / OregonLive newsletters at podcasts for the latest news and top stories.