Oregon scrambling to secure funding for COVID-19 response

Oregon scrambling to secure funding for COVID-19 response

Money sought to trace contacts, beef up staffing and provide possible public quarantine sites


By:  Sam Stites

While new infection cases emerge in Oregon, state officials say they need an additional $1.5 million to trace contacts of those found infected with the new coronavirus and more staffing, according to state documents obtained Friday.

They also say they need an estimated $2.5 million to help local health departments across Oregon prepare for the COVID-19 outbreak and reimburse school districts for the extra costs of sanitizing schools.

Those needs are part of a request made this week by Gov. Kate Brown in a letter to Vice President Mike Pence outlining Oregon’s need for up to $10 million per month in federal help.

Brown also is asking the State Emergency Board for another $5 million to cover escalating costs at the Oregon Health Authority, the state agency leading Oregon’s response to the coronavirus. The board is scheduled to meet in Salem on Monday.

On Saturday, the Health Authority announced four new presumptive positive virus cases, including two in Jackson County, one in Klamath County and a third case in Washington County.

“We are going to see increased cases” as most testing is done, said Dr. Dean Sidelinger, state health officer.

The two cases out of Jackson County involve people in the same household whose infection is related to travel. They are in treatment while in isolation at home, according to Dr. Jim Shames, Jackson County public officer.

Health officials said the person ill in Klamath County was related to travel, while the new Washington County case involved someone in contact with a person already under treatment for the coronavirus.

Sidelinger said health officials still haven’t determined the source of the coronavirus that infected a school employee from Washington County and a casino worker from Pendleton.

Health officials were releasing little information about the individuals and about the number of people put under monitoring after it was determined they had been in contact with those presumed to be infected.

They said they were keeping details confidential to avoid stigmatizing potential patients who might not come forward.

“Stigma may put us all at risk,” said Sidelinger.

They also are trying to keep Oregonians for overreacting, saying people should use precautions to prevent exposure but also that they should go about normal activities such as group or public events.

“Misinformation is rampant,” said Tricia Mortell, Washington County public health administrator.

The state is monitoring 203 people who may have had contact that could lead to an infection, a process that lasts two weeks. They said, as of Sunday, 53 tests for possible cases were pending, and tests were negative for another 100 individuals.

As the virus emerges in Oregon, the cost estimates for Oregon to deal with the health emergency could change.

“As there are still many variables that could impact costs in the coming weeks, that figure is an estimate of what could be needed if we need additional capacity to respond to the coronavirus,” said Charles Boyle, a spokesperson for Brown. “At this point, as the Oregon Health Authority is still assessing this situation as it develops and getting feedback about needs at the local level, we do not yet have a more in-depth breakdown of how those funds would be spent.”

The governor is asking for $1 million to bolster stocks of personal protective equipment including N-95 respirators, gowns, gloves and other masks for health workers. That would buy about 400,000 sets, according to the Oregon Health Authority.

Another $1 million is being sought to quarantine as needed vulnerable populations and others under monitoring in hotels and other housing. Another $1 million would reimburse other state agencies, including the state Education and Corrections Departments.

In Washington, Congress has appropriated $8.3 billion for nationwide coronavirus response and containment. The package includes $3 billion for developing vaccines and testing, more than $2 billion to help government agencies at all levels respond to the crisis and $1 billion that includes buying critical pharmaceuticals and medical supplies.

“In the face of this public health crisis, we need good information, good science, and the right tools in the right hands to limit the virus’s spread and keep people safe,” said U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley said in a statement Thursday.