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Gov. Brown announces plan to test 100,000 people

Jackson County Medical Director Dr. Jim Shames applauded Oregon’s new plan Friday to recruit 100,000 volunteers from around the state for random COVID-19 testing.

Announced Friday at a press conference, the “Key to Oregon” study, to be carried out in partnership with Oregon Health & Science University, will be a “game changer,” said Gov. Kate Brown.

The program is intended to give a more accurate understanding of the rate of COVID-19 infection in Oregon, utilizing the testing and real-time mapping, according to the Key to Oregon website, www.ohsu.edu/health/key-oregon-study-covid-19.

“This is exactly the kind of thing that we need,” said Shames. “We’re going to open up, perhaps sporadically, around the state. The question is, how do we identify when things aren’t going well? How do we identify when things are getting into trouble, so that we need to pull back?”

OHSU will send out letters seeking volunteers statewide for the yearlong period starting May 11. Volunteers will be selected at random, the site said. Participants will monitor their temperature and other symptoms to collect real-time data. Anyone who becomes symptomatic will receive a home testing kit, and may be referred to the Oregon Health Authority for follow-up. Up to 10,000 randomly selected study participants also will receive home testing kits to provide better data about the number of people who are infected but do not have symptoms.

The 100,000 selected for the yearlong test will monitor their symptoms daily for the study.

State officials also touched on details for state testing and contact tracing initiatives.

Health officials across the state have recently been performing about 9,000 tests per week, but OHA officials estimate that number needs to go up to about 15,000 a week.

Brown said testing should be available for “any Oregonian showing symptoms” and for individuals living in “vulnerable group living situations” where COVID-19 is suspected, such as nursing homes, prisons and farm worker housing.

Going forward, testing capacity among Oregon hospitals will be managed as a single statewide system that will allocate resources to meet needs in every region, Brown said.

“This will include building testing partnerships with smaller hospitals in rural parts of the state,” Brown said.

For contact tracing, or the tracing and monitoring of people a COVID-19 patient came into contact with, Brown said the state intends to train at least 600 people to provide information and support to those who may have been exposed.

“I was pleasantly surprised,” Shames said of the state’s rollout. “What that released was a really comprehensive package.”

With such a strategy in place, Brown added, Oregon would be able to start easing restrictions in place since mid-March.

“Physical distancing will remain a part of our daily lives until we have the security of a vaccine or treatment for the disease,” Brown said.

The reopening process will happen gradually, and Brown said certain parts of the state might be able to open “as soon as May 15.” Dr. Dean Sidelinger, Oregon health officer and epidemiologist, said the strategy is “not without risk.”

“Our projections show that the disease will increase in Oregon as we open up, that more people will be hospitalized, and possibly even die,” Sidelinger said at Friday’s press conference. “So we need these measures in place to mitigate that.”

Jackson County officials are in the process of seeing whether the county meets the correct standards and will decide next Friday whether to send a letter to Brown requesting a local easing of restrictions.

The county reported no new cases of COVID-19 Friday. Just one new case has been reported in the past 15 days. Of the 49 confirmed cases, 38 are considered recovered. No deaths have been reported in the county. Josephine County reported one new case Friday bringing its total to 22.

State officials announced another death and 69 more cases in Oregon Friday, bringing the statewide total to 2,579 cases, with 104 deaths.

Reach web editor Ryan Pfeil at 541-776-4468 or rpfeil@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @RyanPfeil.