UMATILLA COUNTY — Just weeks after its removal, Umatilla County became the first county to be returned to the state’s COVID-19 watchlist on Friday, Oct. 9, Gov. Kate Brown announced in a press release.

The county was first removed from the watch list on Sept. 18 and was added back the day after the state reported 481 COVID-19 cases on Thursday, Oct. 8, the most reported on a single day since the start of the pandemic.

“Combined with yesterday’s record-high statewide case count, this is a sign that we must tread cautiously or we risk losing the gains we’ve made in slowing the spread of COVID-19,” Brown stated in the release. “My priority is getting kids in every county safely back in school — but that will become more and more difficult if COVID-19 case numbers spike.”

The return to the watchlist has no impact on businesses’ ability to remain open or the guidelines for social gatherings.

The watchlist is used to inform state policymakers and the Oregon Health Authority about the spread of COVID-19 in individual counties and assist in prioritizing resources for those counties.

The state determines whether a county will be on the watchlist by the number and rate of virus cases that can’t be traced to a known source of transmission, also known as the sporadic case rate. A county is added to the watch list if it reports more than five sporadic cases and a sporadic case rate that exceeds 50 sporadic cases per 100,000 people during a two-week span.

According to the Oregon Health Authority, Umatilla County recorded 42 sporadic cases (51.7 per 100,000) from Sept. 20 to Oct. 3. The county had recorded 27 and 31 cases in the two previous two-week windows, which amounted to 33.3 and 38.2 cases per 100,000 people, respectively.

“Last week, we saw a jump there,” Umatilla County Public Health Director Joe Fiumara said. “Most of which are folks we’re just not able to connect with.”

Fiumara said that can happen from people refusing to talk to contact tracers, not returning phone calls or not having a working phone number to begin with.

“The fact is that means we don’t know where they got it,” he said.

Umatilla County has also seen a jump the last two weeks in case totals altogether. According to the Oregon Health Authority, Umatilla County added 115 new cases of the virus from Sept. 26 to Oct. 2. Fiumara said about 15 of those cases were tied to a new workplace outbreak that wasn’t identified in the state’s weekly report.

“We’ve definitely seen a little bit of an uptick,” Fiumara said. “But we feel it might be dropping a bit again this week.”

The Oregon Health Authority has reported 88 new cases of the virus in Umatilla County from Saturday, Oct. 3 to Oct. 9.

Fiumara said the county’s return to the watchlist won’t change any operations at the health department, but added it may be a reminder of the ongoing risk the virus poses.

“It’s not something we want but ultimately it doesn’t change what we’re doing in-house,” Fiumara said. “If it draws some attention to people from the standpoint of ‘we’re still not out of this, I’ve still got to hold to these guidelines,’ then it’s worthwhile.”

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