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Oregon to do random testing on 100,000 people for COVID-19

SALEM, Ore. (AP) — Oregon will launch an ambitious random testing program and increase contact tracing as it readies to reopen the economy, Gov. Kate Brown said Friday, though a top state official said reopening will inevitably cost lives.

She announced at a news conference that ultimately 100,000 volunteers will be needed.

“This program is a game changer,” Brown said. “It will give us a more accurate understanding of the true rate of infections in Oregon and to have ongoing precision monitoring of any new outbreaks.”

The program will be carried out in a partnership with Oregon Health & Science University, she said.

Health officials warned that opening up the state will inevitably cost lives, but that standing still forever is not an option.

“We know when we take this step that in fact there will be more disease in the state. More people will get sick and sadly, more people will die,” Health Authority Director Patrick Allen said in a telephone interview. “And the challenge for us is to make sure that we’re managing that risk and mitigating it as effectively as we possibly can.”

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough, that clear up in two to three weeks. But it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death for some people, especially older adults and people with existing health problems.

Modelling shows Oregon could have about 2,800 people infected by the coronavirus currently, including unknown and untested people, officials said. So far, 103 people are known to have died from the virus in Oregon.

Before the random testing plan was announced, officials said Oregon needs the ability to conduct 12,250 tests per week, for a rate of 29 per 10,000, according to health officials. That level would have to increase as stay-home orders are eased. In recent weeks COVID-19 testing has increased to more than 9,000 tests per week ,officials said.

Allen said maintaining the lockdown indefinitely is not a solution.

“The challenge for us is to make sure that we’re managing that risk and mitigating it as effectively as we possibly can,” Allen said. “The flip side of the coin is staying where we are today also has risk. We can’t keep everything shut down, including health care and important sectors of the economy, essentially forever.”