As the COVID-19 pandemic continues its grip on the world, its indiscriminate attack on communities in and around the Portland metropolitan area yields few answers beyond: be smart, keep your distance, and wash, wash, wash your hands.
Multnomah County — predictably, due to population and population density — leads the state in cases (1,632) and deaths (68) by a large margin. Behind them is Washington County (950, 20), Clackamas County (526, 20), with Yamhill County (94, 8) and Columbia County (22, 0) much further back.
A closer picture of the COVID-19 situation in Washington County is available. Data from Oregon Health Authority as of Wednesday, June 17, breaks it down by zip code, yielding the following results:
• 97006 (Beaverton) 60 cases, 9.5 case count per 10,000
• 97007 (Beaverton) 57 cases, 8.5
• 97003 (Beaverton) 46, 17.8
• 97005 (Beaverton) 37, 14.9
• 97008 (Beaverton) 23, 7.9
• 97225 (Raleigh Hills) 26, 10.8
• 97229 (Cedar Mill) 38, 6.5
• 97078 (Aloha) 47 cases, 21.9
• 97123 (Hillsboro) 136 cases, 30.5
• 97124 (Hillsboro) 67 cases, 13.9
• 97113 (Cornelius) 81 cases, 57.2
• 97116 (Forest Grove) 99 cases, 41.1
• 97223 (Tigard) 65, 13.9
• 97224 (Tigard) 28, 9.0
• 97062 (Tualatin) 44, 16.0
• 97070 (Wilsonville) 22, 10.5
• 97140 (Sherwood) 22, 9.4
The data tells you south Hillsboro, Cornelius and Forest Grove have been hit harder than other parts of Washington County, but what they don't tell you is why — nor could the Washington County Department of Health and Human Services.
Mary Sawyers, spokesperson for Washington County Public Health, said that the zip code numbers are based on an infected person's residence, as opposed to where they work. However, in many cases, people often work relatively near to where they live, drawing a correlation to outbreaks that may have occurred in the aforementioned areas of interest.
You can connect those dots with Forest Grove, which experienced outbreaks (defined as five or more cases at a single location) at Old Trapper and Chaucer Foods; Cornelius at Townsend Farms; and Hillsboro at Reser's Fine Foods.
Sawyers was quick to point out however, that despite an outbreak at a place of business, it doesn't necessarily tell you where or how the infected person was exposed — which makes it difficult to trace its origin.
"That's why we didn't think, when the zip code data was first made public, that it was really that helpful," Sawyers said, "because it doesn't tell you where the exposure happened."
She went on to explain that if someone is exposed at work in a different area, then comes home and infects the people they live with in a neighboring zip code, it tells you where they live, but not necessarily where they contracted the virus.
Misleading? Maybe, but also dangerous in terms of potentially stigmatizing groups of people.
"It can really reinforce stigma and unfairly target communities of color," Sawyers said. "And it doesn't necessarily help you contain an outbreak."
Long-term care facilities have also proven both vulnerable to and areas of concern for outbreaks. Jennings McCall Assisted Living in Forest Grove suffered an outbreak in early May, resulting in seven cases and one death, along with Prestige Senior Living Riverwood in Tualatin and Avamere at Bethany.
Oregon Gov. Kate Brown finalized a comprehensive, statewide COVID-19 testing plan for long-term care facilities Monday, June 15. The plan, which will be rolled out in two phases, will offer initial testing to all staff and residents, and will continue with plans for ongoing monitoring, including testing once a month.
Sawyers said the county is working on a business toolkit that will encompass many of those same policies in the interests of protecting people on the job, so as to potentially stem outbreaks like the ones at Old Trapper or Townsend Farms before they necessarily get started.
"It's a checklist of sorts to provide businesses guidelines to a safe work environment," she said. "What are you doing to keep people six feet apart. Are you cleaning the lunch room. Is there a way to put up plastic sheeting, etc. We're not the licensing agency of a lot of businesses, but we're working with OSHA."
Ultimately, cases are and will continue to rise as the state, county, and areas like Forest Grove, Cornelius and Hillsboro reopen, but where and how significant those cases will develop and become will remain a bit of mystery. So while you can't predict where and when, you can take precautions to prevent you or your workplace from falling victim to the unknown — and Washington County seems to understand that.
"You have to test on a rotating basis," Sawyers said, "because if a person who is an employee who tests negative goes home and is exposed, then comes back to work the next day, they may actually be carrying the virus and be asymptomatic. So you need to have rolling testing to help contain a potential outbreak.
"Most businesses have been compliant, but we're always working to make things better."
Mark Miller contributed to this report.
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