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Public health staff will no longer call COVID-19 positive people

Andy Atkinson/Mail Tribune People wait in line for COVID-19 testing in downtown Medford.
New system allows people to self-report at-home test results

With the surge of COVID-19 cases overloading the system, the Oregon Healthy Authority is no longer asking local public health workers to contact people who test positive for the virus.

Workers had been calling people with COVID-19 to let them know how to stay safe and protect others. Workers also asked about people’s close contacts who may have been exposed.

Now workers will focus their efforts on investigating outbreaks in high-risk settings such as nursing homes, health care facilities, schools and the food industry, OHA announced this week.

The highly contagious omicron variant is fueling a new surge in cases, not long after the delta variant triggered a summer and fall surge in 2021.

“Our contact tracing staff is not able to keep up with contacting everybody during these surges. That was true in the delta surge as well,” said Jackson County Public Health Medical Director Laura O’Keefe.

On Thursday, Jackson County reported 505 new COVID-19 cases and one death. Oregon as a whole logged 9,796 new cases — the second highest daily count of the pandemic — and 25 more deaths.

Jackson County Administrator Danny Jordan said local public health employees have been working weekdays, evenings and weekends, but still can’t keep up with the surge.

O’Keefe said contact tracing and case investigation is less useful when the COVID-19 virus is so widespread. Those techniques to help control the spread of infectious illnesses work best for small outbreaks in specified areas.

Local public health departments, hospitals, doctors’ offices and other COVID-19 testing sites are still required to report positive test results to the state for data tracking.

But the state also launched a COVID-19 case support hotline at 1-866-917-8881 and a website at oregon.gov/positivecovidtest for people to voluntarily self-report a positive test result from an at-home test kit.

OHA said people aren’t required to self-report. But the state is encouraging them to do so, and to let their close contacts know they may have been exposed so they can take steps to limit exposure to others.

Whether they tested positive with an at-home kit or through a testing site, anyone can call the hotline or visit the website to get information about what to do. The hotline is open from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturdays.

OHA said support staff will be available to provide general health information; answers to questions about isolation and quarantine; answers about how to tell close contacts they may have been exposed to COVID-19; information about resources to help them during isolation and help filling out the online Case Investigation Survey so callers’ positive tests can be reported.

Staff will provide support in English and Spanish, with interpreter services available for additional languages.

State hotline staff will also triage calls that might normally go to overburdened local public health departments — forwarding them only if they require local follow-up, OHA said.

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Vickie Aldous at 541-776-4486 or valdous@rosebudmedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @VickieAldous.