State health officials announced the first "presumptive case" of coronavirus in Oregon is a Washington County resident with ties to the Lake Oswego School District.
In a press conference shortly after 6 p.m., Friday, Feb. 28, Oregon Health Authority Director Patrick Allen said a patient is being treated at Kaiser Westside Medical Center in Hillsboro after testing positive for COVID-19, a disease caused by a new strain of coronavirus that has sickened tens of thousands, mostly in Asia and Europe.
According to the Lake Oswego School District, the patient is an employee at Lake Oswego's Forest Hills Elementary School. State health care workers are working with the Lake Oswego School District to contact individuals who may have been exposed.
The school district announced Friday classes would be cancelled through Wednesday, March 4, to thoroughly clean the school and allow health officials time to investigate.
In an email to students, staff and families, LOSD Superintendent Lora de la Cruz said the employee has a role at the school that does not typically come in contact with students, and likely only had close contact with a few other individuals who will be asked to stay home for two weeks, monitor their conditions, and stay in contact with their health care providers.
Allen said another individual also is being tested for COVID-19, but said those test results are not yet available. Allen said more announcements are expected if more people test positive for the disease.
COVID-19 is caused by a member of the coronavirus family. It is a close cousin to the SARS and MERS viruses that have caused outbreaks in the past. The disease is caused by a virus that was named SARS-CoV-2 by the International Committee on Taxonomy of Viruses. "COVID" is short for "coronavirus disease."
Oregon's first presumptive patient began experiencing symptoms on Wednesday, Feb. 19. The person was tested at the Oregon State Public Health Laboratory in Hillsboro.
Allen said the patient's name, age and gender will not be released, in order to protect the person's privacy.
"Our first concern is for this individual, to make sure they're being cared for and is able to recover," Allen said in a written statement following Friday's press conference. "Our next priority is finding out who this individual had contact with and make sure they know about their risks, and to let them know how they can get care if they need it. We said this was a fast-moving situation, and that has proved to be true."
A spokesperson for OHA said that, while the patient did test positive for the disease, the case is listed as "presumed" until a separate test is completed by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia.
The CDC will use the same testing protocol used by state health officials in Oregon.
Oregon Gov. Kate Brown said state health officials have been preparing in the event Oregonians came down with the disease. Similar cases have been reported in California and Washington.
"I understand this news is concerning," Brown said. "But I want to assure everything that state and local authorities are responding to the case. We are taking this very seriously."
Allen said the patient had not recently traveled outside of Oregon, and it is not clear how the individual contracted the disease.
The patient began experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 on Feb. 19, according to the OHA.
"There has been a great deal of concern around the world and here in Oregon," about COVID-19, Allen said. "That concern is real and reasonable."
The state will notify Clackamas and Washington county residents who may have been exposed to the disease, Allen said.
West Coast cases; one death
On Jan. 30, the director-general of the World Health Organization declared the outbreak of COVID-19 to be a "Public Health Emergency of International Concern."
On Wednesday, the CDC confirmed an infection with the virus in California in a person who reportedly did not have relevant travel history or exposure to any other known patient. At that time, the California patient's exposure was unknown and could be an instance of "community spread," which would be the first known instance of that happening in the United States. According to a CDC press release, "Community spread" means spread of an illness for which the source of infection is unknown. It's also possible, however, that the California patient may have been exposed to a returned traveler who was infected.
The CDC on Friday announced that it was "aware of four new presumptive cases of COVID-19" on the West Coast: The Oregon and California cases, along with two new cases in Washington. All four cases await confirmation by CDC testing.
On Saturday, a person infected with the coronavirus in Washington state died, according to the Seattle and King County Department of Health. The fatality marks the first death associated with the virus in the United States, according to National Public Radio.
Two patients with acute respiratory symptoms tested positive for the coronavirus Friday night at EvergreenHealth Medical Center in Kirkland, a suburb of Seattle. One of the patients died. The other is in isolation.
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee released a statement Saturday on his website: "It is a sad day in our state as we learn that a Washingtonian has died from COVID-19. Our hearts go out to their family and friends. We will continue to work toward a day where no one dies from this virus," Inslee wrote.
"In partnership with the Washington State Department of Health, the Washington State Department of Emergency Management and local and community health partners, we are strengthening our preparedness and response efforts," he wrote. "I am committed to keeping Washingtonians healthy, safe and informed."
Ways to prevent infection
If people feel they are coming down with a cold or flu, Allen said it is "critically important" that they not attend work or school.
"Stay home and talk to your health care provider," Allen said.
This is the first case of COVID-19 in an Oregonian inside the state. A Forest Grove couple are currently under quarantine in Japan after contracting the virus while on a cruise.
OHA officials recommend people take everyday precautions to prevent the spread of many respiratory illnesses, including COVID-19 and influenza:
Oregon Public Broadcasting, a media partner of Pamplin Media Group, contributed to this report.
This story was updated at noon, Saturday, Feb. 29.
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