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Staff shortage causing lag in ability to locate source of new positive cases of coronavirus

SCREENSHOT - ZOOM - Clackamas County's total weekly case count topped 500 last week, with another record expected to be set this week. Projections show cases weekly numbers climbing as high as 2,800 if spread isn't curbed. A lack of staffing has caused Clackamas County's public health division to fall behind in its effort to contact trace new cases of COVID-19 by approximately 250 cases as infection numbers continue to soar.

The Clackamas Board of County Commissioners heard reports this week from Nancy Bush, incident commander, and Dr. Sarah Present, county health officer, who both outlined how a workforce shortage has hindered the county's ability to trace contacts of new cases within the 24-hour window the state metrics require. It will also require the county to scale back some of the contact tracing process to allow itself to catch back up.

The news comes as the county enters the two-week pause on social activity mandated by Gov. Kate Brown due to rising case numbers and a spike in hosptilizations statewide.

Clackamas County's infection data shows that cases have increased by as much as 38% in recent weeks, with 517 new cases being reported last week alone. The county currently has 3,992 cases, 71 deaths and 82,129 negatives.

"I am in support of this pause," Present told the board Thursday, Nov. 12. "We really need to shift gears and get the disease spread under control again. We have done an amazing job in Clackamas County and throughout Oregon of keeping control over the disease spread until the last couple weeks."

According to Bush, the county is in the process of hiring more staff to help keep up with its contact-tracing load, as well as bringing in employees of other departments who have helped with the task in previous months. But until those hires are made, the county has been forced to scale back some of the requirements of the contact-tracing process. That includes a temporary pause on workplace notifications, which means new cases will be responsible for notifying their employer of their positive test. It also means that contact tracers will be asking for less contact info as to only include "truly" close contacts, and the county has worked with the Oregon Health Authority to decrease some of the questions to make the interview process a little bit faster.

"What that means for the public is that they may not hear from public health for a few days at this point," Present said. "The more individuals can cooperate with us in giving us good contact information, but also let their contacts know and their employers know early as soon as they know, the more people can self quarantine, be staying safe and decrease spread while they're waiting for public health to call."

Present reported that public health officials still fear that small, indoor gatherings are to blame for the recent rise in cases, and she's hopeful this two-week pause will send the message that the county and region need the public's help if we're to ever to get the virus under control, especially as we head into the holidays.

Present said that if people can stay home, self-quarantine and decrease spread for the two weeks leading up to Thanksgiving, the risk of passing the virus on during holiday gatherings will be diminished.

Present also provided the board with an updated report on the county's projected infection rate put together by the county's epidemiologists. SCREENSHOT - ZOOM  - Clackamas County epidemiologists project that case counts could grow to more than 2,800 per week if the public isn't able to cut down on social interactions to stop the spread of the virus. According to the projections, Clackamas County could see weekly case numbers top 2,800 by the first week of December if spread isn't contained. On the low end, the projections show numbers only growing to the 800-900 cases per week range if the public takes this two-week pause seriously. SCREENSHOT - ZOOM - Both the county and region continue to fail to meet metrics laid out by the state to enter into the next phase of reopening, a suprise to no one as case counts continue to reach record highs in multiple straight weeks.

In terms of reopening, Clackamas County continues to fail at meeting the metrics to move into the next phase, as does the metro region as a whole. The county is also failing to meet metrics for a return to in-person learning with a two-week case rate of 202.5 per 100,000.

"It's an unfortunate time right now. I do think we're getting things under control. I do think taking a pause to try to decrease spread is going to get us back to where we can look towards the future of isolation and quarantine working to stop the spread," Present said.

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