HERMISTON, Ore. — In light of community testing results that indicate Hermiston’s rate of COVID-19 is dangerously high, public health leaders are encouraging residents and employees of local businesses to wear face coverings, stay 6 feet apart in public and use local resources for medical care, public health assistance and other support.
“As a community we must take every precaution to stop the spread of COVID-19 and protect our vulnerable friends and neighbors, allow our businesses and schools to re-open, and get our lives back to normal,” said Hermiston Mayor David Drotzmann. “We owe it to each other to follow safety guidelines and work to protect our public’s health.”
Oregon State University’s TRACE-COVID-19 project (Team-based Rapid Assessment of Community-Level Coronavirus Epidemics) sent workers to Hermiston on July 25-26 to conduct free, voluntary door-to-door tests in an effort to determine the community prevalence of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. TRACE teams have conducted similar sampling in Corvallis, Bend and Newport.
Based on testing results, TRACE researchers estimate that roughly 17% of Hermiston residents, or nearly 3,000 people throughout the community, are infected with the virus; 80% who tested positive didn’t show any symptoms.
Umatilla County continues to have the highest rate of COVID-19 cases in Oregon. Local health workers cite multiple contributing factors, including misinformation, language barriers in accessing reliable information, lack of health care access and low compliance with mask mandates.
Miguel Ascencio, a community health worker with the ConneXions program at Good Shepherd Medical Center in Hermiston, joined OSU’s TRACE team to help with the sampling.
“It was kind of eye opening to see how many people are misinformed about (the virus),” he said. “A lot of information is coming out every day about it, so people don’t know what to believe … there have been scams, a lot of false information out there that people have been seeing.”
Ascencio said that by assisting with the TRACE sampling and working at Good Shepherd, he has met many people who do not understand what COVID-19 is; how people can be infected without showing any symptoms; or how a face covering can help prevent disease transmission. As a result, he said many people are less likely to wear a mask.
However, it is still the most important thing people can do to help slow the virus’s spread, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“The biggest thing they can do is to wear their face coverings,” Ascencio said. “It might be annoying to wear it, but they have got to think of their family members — their kids, their grandparents — because they are putting their lives at risk. Wearing a mask can go such a long ways when out in public or in the stores.”
Local health leaders and medical centers are offering a wide range of resources to help residents keep themselves and their loved ones safe.
“Residents should limit their contact with people outside their household, keep 6 feet of distance from others and use face coverings,” said Dean Sidelinger, health officer and state epidemiologist at the Oregon Health Authority.
Symptoms of COVID-19 include fever, cough, shortness of breath, chills, muscle pain, headache, loss of smell and/or taste, abdominal pain, loss of appetite, diarrhea, nausea and vomiting.
Those who have had close contact with someone who has tested positive should quarantine for 14 days, and get tested if symptoms develop, health officials say.
Those who have tested positive should isolate for 10 days from others at home. If symptoms develop, isolate for 10 days after they begin and three more days after they have passed.
The Umatilla County Public Health website keeps updated charts of the county’s current numbers on COVID-19 testing, positive and negative cases, and deaths. For questions or concerns about coronavirus, residents can dial 2-1-1. The Oregon Health Authority and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also have information on staying safe and steps to take if someone thinks they may be sick.
Rite Aid is offering free COVID-19 testing for those ages 18 and older at three locations in Umatilla County: Hermiston, Pendleton and Milton-Freewater. Appointments can be scheduled online. (835 S. Highway 395 in Hermiston; 541-567-7805.)
For those whose income has been affected by the pandemic, CAPECO (Community Action Program of Eastern Central Oregon, 1565 N. First St. Suite 1 in Hermiston, 541-289-7755) has information about rental assistance through the Oregon Housing and Community Services’ COVID-19 Rent Relief Program. Umatilla County residents can fill out a COVID-19 Rent Relief application online to see if they are eligible, and then a CAPECO employee will reach out to process the application. Applicants must have a copy of their identification, know the income of all adults over the age of 18 in the household, and obtain a landlord statement and W-9 form.
Hermiston food bank Agape House (500 Harper Road in Hermiston; 541-567-8774) is still providing food for those in need, and accepting food donations to keep up with demand. Oregon’s Department of Human Services also offers food assistance through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) (240 Columbia Lane in Irrigon; 541-567-8321.)
Health officials urge anyone who thinks they might be sick to seek out testing with their primary care provider first, rather than the emergency room at the hospital. For those with no primary care provider, Good Shepherd Urgent Care is available for walk-ins (1050 Elm Ave. in Hermiston; 541-567-2995.)
About Oregon State University: As one of only two land, sea, space and sun grant universities in the nation, Oregon State serves Oregon and the world by working on today’s most pressing issues. Our more than 33,000 students come from across the globe, and our programs operate in every Oregon county. Oregon State receives more research funding than all of the state’s comprehensive public universities combined. At our campuses in Corvallis and Bend, marine research center in Newport and award-winning Ecampus, we excel at shaping today’s students into tomorrow’s leaders.