Washington County officials inform businesses about COVID-19 virus
Washington County is preparing to help businesses and workers cope with the coronavirus outbreak that is responsible for respiratory disease.
But officials told representatives of business and other groups on Friday, March 13, that they still lack answers to key questions, such as the availability of testing for the COVID-19 virus and assistance for small businesses affected by shutdowns.
The count of COVID-19 cases in the county remained at 10 on Friday, of a total of 30 statewide. Just two weeks ago, the county recorded the first presumed and confirmed case in Oregon.
It was the second conference call convened by Washington County's Emergency Operations Center, which was activated March 3 to deal with the evolving situation. John Wheeler, the county's interim emergency program manager and the center's chief, said that almost 200 people were on Friday's call.
"We are here to unify the response of the county and county stakeholders to be sure we do not have siloes in a coordinated effort," Wheeler said.
Wheeler said for people who lack access to the internet and need more information about the virus, they should call 2-1-1 — the number normally used to connect people with social services — and not the 9-1-1 emergency telephone line or public safety agencies. He said the Oregon Health Authority has made special arrangements for callers to obtain information about the virus.
But a public health official says it's uncertain when drive-up testing for the COVID-19 virus might be widely available in Oregon. Gov. Kate Brown said earlier Friday that Oregon was getting less than 10% of what it has requested from the federal government, including test kits.
Adrienne Donner is supervisor of public health, emergency preparedness and emergency medical services for Washington County. She and Mjere Simantel, assistant director of county health and human services, said they are trying to focus prevention efforts on such high-risk groups as people 60 and older, pregnant women, people who have respiratory problems or are less able to fight off infections, and workers in health care and other critical sectors such as utilities.
In addition to Brown's statewide ban on public gatherings of more than 250, which runs through April 8, they said they are discouraging people in high-risk groups from attending private gatherings of more than 10 people. They also are suspending meetings of county panels that might involve the participation of people in high-risk groups.
It's also unclear how much authority a business or government agency has to compel a customer or client who appears sick to go home.
"It will be case by case," Donner said.
Simantel said that while 3 feet is the recommended "social distance" for people to avoid close contact with others to reduce the likelihood of spreading disease, officials would like to increase that span to 6 feet.
In addition to employees working at home where practicable, she said, health officials have encouraged businesses to suspend staff meetings and other gatherings that may involve large numbers of people.
Meanwhile, Business Oregon is gearing up to help small businesses navigate "economic injury" worksheets, which will enable the U.S. Small Business Administration to provide relief via the counties. Stephen Richardson of Business Oregon said the state's economic development agency will enlist help from Oregon's network of small business development centers, 17 of them affiliated with community colleges and the others with state universities.
Washington County webpage:
Oregon governor webpage for employers:
Business Oregon webpage:
Oregon Health Authority on COVID-19:
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