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State health officials report progress in the declining COVID-19 cases in Oregon, but still challenges in slowing the spread, and reopening schools.

According to Oregon Health Authority (OHA), the state experienced five more COVID-19 deaths as of Aug. 27, bringing the state’s death count to 438. The OHA also reported 212 more cases the day of Aug. 27, bringing the state’s total case count of confirmed and presumptive cases to 25,761.

However, OHA Director Patrick Allen said new numbers highlight progress is being made. Those numbers show a 13 percent drop in new infections from Aug. 17 through Aug. 23. The test positivity rate has also dropped from 5.4 percent to 5.1 percent within the last week. And there has been a 41 percent decrease in hospitalization since Aug. 14, Allen said.

“We're headed in the right direction, but we need to keep the pressure on to further slow the spread of the virus,” Allen said.

Allen and state epidemiologist Dr. Dean Sidelinger said that post reopening cases have shown to be falling after holidays, such as Mother’s Day, Memorial Day and the Fourth of July. Allen said as the state heads into Labor Day, he is cautioning people to strongly rethink their celebration plans and limit their social gatherings outside of their household.

To illustrate how the virus quickly can spread through the community, Sidelinger outlined two stories of family get-togethers that resulted in many more cases of COVID-19.

One example was a group of 10 people who got together for a family party. The get-together led to 20 reported cases in 10 different households, according to Sidelinger. At least two of the people in the outbreak worked with vulnerable populations, Sidelinger said, and another lived in a multi-generational house with family members with high-risk medical conditions.

“So even though the people who went to the party may not have considered themselves at a higher risk for complications, many of the people who got sick potentially exposed individuals who are more vulnerable to complications,” Sidelinger said.

Another example was a group of approximately 20 people who took a three-day vacation to a beach house. Twelve of those individuals got sick with COVID-19, and they had links to five workplace outbreaks, totaling over 300 cases.

“These examples show that even a small number of people, if they have multiple exposures can lead to large number of cases," Sidelinger said. "This is why we take actions to prevent the spread of COVID-19 to protect our family, our friends, our coworkers, and our neighbors.”

Sidelinger said he could not release county location of the outbreaks for confidentiality reasons.

During a telephone media briefing on Aug. 27, Allen and Sidelinger also discussed metrics for reopening schools.

“While our COVID-19 data shows we are doing better than many other states, the virus continues to be a threat in our communities, and we're not close to keeping the infection rate at a level where we need to safely reopen all schools across Oregon,” Sidelinger said.

In order to reopen schools, counties need a rate of infection of less than five percent and a case count of equal to or less than 10 per 100,000 population.

Those numbers were gleaned from the success of other countries that reopened schools without massive outbreaks resulting from the reopening, according to Sidelinger.

“The real key ends up being, getting to a place where coronavirus is rare enough in the community that when it does pop up, it pops up in isolated pockets that can easily be surrounded and dealt with,” Sidelinger said.

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