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Warm Springs announced 4 cases; origin of at least 1 case in the county is unknown.

Jefferson County saw its first lab-confirmed cases of COVID-19 of people currently living in the county last week.

The county now has six confirmed cases, including one of a person who is currently living out of state but is considered a resident.

The Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs announced four cases last week, and the county has one case that is unrelated to the Warm Springs cases, according to Jefferson County Public Health Director Michael Baker.

He said none of the county's cases have required hospitalization, and all of the patients are isolating themselves.

As of Monday morning, April 27, the Warm Springs Wellness Center had taken 73 tests, with 69 negative results and four positives, according to Hyllis Dauphinias Sr., the center's CEO.

"The seriousness of COVID-19 threat to our ways of life was brought to reality in the death of lifelong resident of Celilo Village, Bobbie Begay," said Louie Pitt in a statement on the Tribes' website. "A Yakama tribal member that honored his tribal way of life in a place resided on by his people since the beginning of time."

Pitt relayed a report by Katie Russell, the Tribes' community health service manager.

"Ages range is less than 18 years to elders," she wrote. "... some have had symptoms; some did not."

There were cases related to the Celilo area, but not necessarily related to the Celilo Salmon Feast, she said.

On the afternoon of Tuesday, April 21, the Tribes had warmed that anyone who had attended the feast may have been exposed to the coronavirus.

As for the other cases, Baker said if there is a contact outside the community, public health staff have not been able to identify it based on interviewing individual patients.

He said that staff's workload has increased, but all of the patients had been respecting reductions in nonessential travel and gatherings, making the tracing work less difficult.

Patients have a spouse or someone else who can bring them supplies while they are isolating themselves, Baker said. If they did not have anyone or lived alone, arrangements would be made.

The county should expect to see more positive cases of COVID-19 because more tests are being given, Baker said.

"We are seeing better testing. We are seeing better numbers," he said. Until recently, there were only 20-35 tests coming back negative. The newest numbers are about 200, he said.

"We've made dramatic increases," he said. And a few places in the county now have rapid testing, where results come back within an hour.

Baker praised his staff for making sure regular services are still ongoing, and he praised the Jefferson County Board of Commissioners for balancing people's health with their desire to get back to work and stimulate the economy.

Other counties have been pushing to open, but Baker said the board has been looking at the data.

"Right now, going forward, the most important thing to stress is that we can't just go back to normal tomorrow or May 1," he said. "We just can't go back. We just don't understand enough still."

He emphasized that although it feels like COVID-19 has been with us a long time, the disease wasn't named until February, and it has only been in the news for about 100 days.

"We're gathering good data, and we're also gathering a lot of bad information," he said, adding that it isn't realistic that gatherings can restart quickly.

And he said physical distancing is working.

"We didn't get overwhelmed because those steps that we did worked," he said.

At first, the death rates were much higher, especially as the virus hit assisted living facilities.

As people have stayed home, the rates have decreased. But that has also made some people doubt the need for distancing.

"And this is the problem we see a lot in public health," Baker said. "It's very hard to measure what you've prevented."

He said measures have been both aggressive and painful.

"And it worked," he said. "Now comes the next painful process of kind of getting back to where we were and trying to move forward."

He said he sympathizes who want the isolation to end; he does, too.

"But I don't know how I would recover if we did all of these things for nothing, and we opened up and then we just got slammed again with cases overloading our hospitals," he said.

Seeing people sacrifice for nothing would be worse, he said.

Farther out, he said the virus is showing the importance of a strong public health system.

"I think if anything positive comes out of that, it will help strengthen the public health system," he said, adding that public health is not well funded in Oregon.

If the system was stronger, it could be more nimble as it tackles new viruses and diseases, he said.


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