Three more Baker County residents have been infected with COVID-19, bringing the county’s case total to four.
The three new cases, reported Tuesday, follow the initial confirmed case reported May 6. No other infections were reported as of 4 p.m. Wednesday.
The Baker County Health Department is investigating the three cases, and contact tracers will be trying to get in touch with people who might have been in close contact in the past 14 days with any of three people who tested positive.
“While additional cases were not unexpected, this is a good reminder to isolate yourself at home if you become sick with a fever or cough to help prevent the spread of illness,” Dr. Eric Lamb, the county’s public health officer, said in a press release Tuesday. “If you are not sick you can still help prevent the spread by practicing social distancing, wearing a mask or face shield, and good hand hygiene. Following these guidelines helps protect the whole community.”
Baker County Commissioner Mark Bennett, the county’s incident commander during the pandemic, said Tuesday that he was not surprised that the county had additional infections.
Bennett pointed out that among the counties bordering Baker County, Union County has had 342 cases of the virus, the majority of those connected to an Island City church, and Malheur County has had 124 cases.
“It certainly wasn’t unexpected,” Bennett said of the three confirmed cases. “I was delighted we made it as long as we did (with only one case).”
Citing health privacy laws, county officials did not release any details about the three cases, including whether any of the three people was or had been hospitalized, whether any had symptoms, and why and where they were tested.
Oregon Health Authority guidelines require counties to be prepared to contact trace at least 95% of new infections within 24 hours.
County officials did not give an estimate about how many residents the contact tracers would be interviewing.
Holly Kerns, a spokesperson for the county, said Wednesday that one investigator has been handling the new cases. Other contact tracers are available if needed, Kerns said.
The investigator, after interviewing the three people who tested positive, will try to get in touch with anyone who might have been in close contact with one of those people.
The Health Department asks that people ensure they have voicemail in case they are called by a contact tracer.
Any individual who tests positive for COVID-19 is asked to isolate at home for 14 days to prevent spread of the illness to other people in the community.
A total of 489 people have been tested for the virus in Baker County. That’s 2.9% of the county’s population. During the past month about 220 people have been tested in the county, a faster rate than during April and May.
In mid-June Saint Alphonsus Medical Center in Baker City started a 52-week program in which up to 15 patients per week who have no COVID-19 symptoms are offered a free test.
In an email to the Herald on Wednesday afternoon, Laura Huggins, marketing and communications manager for the hospital, wrote: “We are seeing very little interest from asymptomatic patients, but we will continue offering the testing for the duration of the 52 week study to those who qualify.”