Data shows COVID-19 may have yet to peak in Umatilla County, complicating goals to reopen by May 15

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UMATILLA COUNTY — The Umatilla County Public Health Department unveiled its latest data on the county’s confirmed cases of COVID-19 Thursday, and the numbers don’t look good for the hopes of reopening local businesses by May 15.

“What the epi curve shows is we probably haven’t quite peaked in Umatilla County yet,” said Umatilla County Public Health Director Joe Fiumara.

According to the latest “epi curve,” which can be found on the health department’s website and shows the particular date that an individual began showing symptoms of the virus, 18 of the county’s 56 confirmed cases began exhibiting signs of COVID-19 in the week after Easter Sunday between April 19 and April 26.

The curve also shows that at least one confirmed case began showing symptoms of the virus each day that week.

This week the county experienced its two largest single-day jumps in cases since reporting began on March 2, including 11 new cases that were announced Thursday.

“The good and the bad is nearly all of them have been connected to existing cases in some way,” Fiumara said. “The good being that helps with our investigations, the bad is that means more people are interacting.”

While the health department’s contact tracing for each case has revealed residents are struggling to continue strictly abiding by social distancing guidelines, Fiumara said it may be a preview of what could happen when restrictions are eased.

The Umatilla County Board of Commissioners submitted a plan to Gov. Kate Brown Monday with a target of May 15 to enter “Phase 1” of loosening restrictions and reopening some nonessential businesses.

Though Fiumara signed off on that plan at the start of the week and said the recent rise in cases is only one piece to consider for the reopening framework, he wasn’t as confident that the state will give the county the go-ahead after seeing the latest data.

“If we’re trending upwards, I’m not sure the state is going to grant it,” he said of the county’s proposal earlier this week. “And I’m not sure I can argue that. All we can really do is follow the data.”

The increase in cases is also correlated to the increased testing capacity, Fiumara said, and may continue as access improves.

“With more testing is going to come more cases,” he said.

The health department also released updated data on its website of the age ranges and sexes of local cases Thursday, which Fiumara said was mostly inconclusive due to the county’s limited number of cases.

The dataset on people’s sex shows 51% of the county’ cases are male and 49% are female, and nearly 30% of the county’s cases have been identified in people between the ages of 50 to 59, more than any other age range in the county.

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