Contact tracing takes time, effort, and manpower. China reportedlyâ€”who knows if itâ€™s trueâ€”had 1,800 teams of five doing contact tracing in Wuhan.Â
A large coronavirus outbreak on the Oregon coast has quickly overwhelmed the local public health department, offering a glimpse into how even a community well-equipped to combat the virus can struggle to contain a sudden surge.
Health officials in Lincoln County have needed to turn to neighboring counties, a local tribe and even a community college to build up a team of contact tracers big enough to match the more than 100 workers at Pacific Seafood in Newport who tested positive Sunday for COVID-19.
And yet it may still take up to two weeks to identify and reach all of those who came into close contact with the sickened workers, said Rebecca Austen, the health director for Lincoln County.
The delay raises fears that the virus could continue to spread unchecked in the county of 50,000 people.
It shouldnâ€™t just raise fears. The virus is uncontained. It will be all over Lincoln County if itâ€™s not already.Â
124 coronavirus cases reported at Pacific Seafood facilities in Newport
The public health investigation into the outbreak began June 2, according to the state. State officials said the initial tally fell below the threshold for public disclosure, which the state set at more than five cases in workplaces with more than 30 workers.
The OHAâ€™s threshold for public disclosure, like many things they do, makes no sense at all. They should just tell the public what is going on.
Dr. Paul Cieslak, Oregonâ€™s medical director for communicable diseases, appeared surprised to learn Thursday that the county was in such dire straits.
â€œOnly time can tell how fast weâ€™re able to do the work and contain this outbreak, but Iâ€™m very concerned,â€ Cieslak said.
I should be surprised that the OHA is surprised, but Iâ€™ve been following them since the start of the outbreak. Iâ€™m not surprised.
The Oregon Health Authority has set a goal that county health officials initiate contact tracing for 95% of new cases within 24 hours of discovering them.
I have set a goal to be the most powerful human being who ever lived, considered god-like by the adoring multitudes who marvel at my charm, brilliance, and humor.Â
And why not dream big? My goal is just as likely to be achieved as the OHAâ€™s.Â
Coronavirus contact tracing is the key to keeping Oregon open.
Will enough people participate?
â€œWeâ€™re taking a strategy we think is our best hope, and weâ€™ll see what happens.”
â€œWeâ€™ll see what happensâ€ is so reassuring from public health officials. As Iâ€™ve said before repeatedly, Iâ€™m incredibly skeptical that a strategy of trace/test/isolate can be successful in the United States. Our freedoms are too broad and our borders between states too porous for it to work.Â
Is there another strategy that might work? Mandatory masking in public spaces.Â
The state wanted the county to have seven public health investigators based on its population. It had twice as many.
â€œBut that did us very little good when the outbreak hit,â€ Austen said.
Thatâ€™s because the stateâ€™s strategy is completely inadequate.Â
Pacific Seafood saw its first worker test positive for COVID-19 on June 1 followed by three more employees a couple of days later, the company said in an email.
Reminder: This did not meet OHAâ€™s threshold for releasing information to the general public.Â
…Pacific Seafood received the results Sunday: 124 of the tested workers â€” or 33% â€” were infected with COVID-19, currently the largest workplace outbreak in the state outside of the Oregon State Penitentiary, where 167 inmates and staff have fallen ill.
…the Oregon Health Authority said the outbreak is contained to Lincoln County and that risk to the public is lowâ€¦.
The OHA is also selling bridges to anyone gullible enough to believe the above.Â
Lincoln County did not receive the names and contact information of the infected workers until late Monday morning, according to Austen and Pacific Seafood.
â€œIn a typical outbreak of this magnitude public health would be involved from the very start,â€ Austen said. â€œNothing is common in this pandemic. All of this novel territory.â€
That is a very polite way to throw the OHA under the bus, which frankly is where they belong.Â
…Meanwhile, Lincoln county health officials have reported an additional 15 coronavirus cases this week on top of the sickened seafood workers â€” as many as theyâ€™d logged during the first three months of the pandemic. Most, but not all, of the cases are people linked to the outbreak, the county said.
Itâ€™s in the community, spreading from person to person. Contact tracing may even be a waste of resources at this point.Â
County health officials also said they are monitoring six new potential workplace outbreaks but did not provide additional information.
They said the Oregon Health Authority will release the names of any business with 30 or more employees where at least five of the workers test positive for COVID-19. Otherwise, the business will not be named.
Weâ€™d hate to inconvenience businesses!Â
Gov. Kate Brownâ€™s office is watching to see what happens next.
Me too. Itâ€™s like a train wreck that you can see coming, but you just canâ€™t turn away.Â
â€œAs the governor has said, reopening comes with risks,â€ said Charles Boyle, a spokesman for Brown. â€œWe are monitoring the situation closely to see if additional measures or interventions will be necessary in Lincoln County.â€
That â€œifâ€ is one for the history books.Â
Cieslak also sounded a note of caution.
â€œThereâ€™s certainly going to be more COVID-19 in Lincoln County than I had hoped for a week ago,â€ he said. â€œA lot of people are walking around the virus.â€
Huh. Weird. So when the OHA says, â€œthe risk to the public is lowâ€ they mean what exactly?Â