While there have been no reported cases of the novel coronavirus in either Hood River or Wasco counties, local health officials are working to prepare a response should one become necessary.
“We understand the growing community concern surrounding the novel coronavirus, COVID-19,” said the Hood River County Health Department in a press release. “We are working with community partners in healthcare to coordinate our response in the event that we have a case identified in our community.”
A patient with coronavirus-like symptoms arrived at the Mid-Columbia Medical Center (MCMC) Emergency Department on March 1, but test results came back negative for the virus.
“Mid-Columbia Medical Center leadership has been meeting on a weekly basis to prepare for possible COVID-19 patients presenting at our hospital. Our nurses and physicians have been kept up to date on screening and identification as well as safety protocols,” said MCMC in a press release. “We want our community to know that we have a dedicated team of healthcare professionals who are trained to handle patients with infectious diseases, and we have a plan in place to respond quickly to any eventuality. Our number one priority remains the safety of our patients and our community.”
Providence Hood River Memorial Hospital has not seen any potential COVID-19 cases but is actively preparing staff and resources in the event a patient with the virus enters the hospital.
“We are communicating and preparing everyday … it’s at the top of our list of priorities,” said Public Relations and Foundation Director Susan Frost.
Providence has an infection control and prevention specialist on-staff, and the hospital been in regular contact with regional offices, as well as OHA and the CDC, to ensure they they’re prepared to handle the outbreak. Hospital staff have been trained how to identify cases of COVID-19 and how to properly use protective equipment, Frost said, and a tabletop exercise took place this week.
“Even though it’s a drill, we want to make sure that we have everything covered,” said Frost. The hospital has also stocked up on disinfectant supplies such as hand sanitizer, but health officials still recommend handwashing as the best method for combatting the virus.
“We are stressing more than anything for the public to have frequent handwashing if they are out and about. That’s really the best way to protect yourself,” said Frost. (See sidebar for more tips on staying healthy during the outbreak.)
Coronavirus refers to the family-group of viruses, while COVID-19 is the specific strain causing the outbreak. Common human coronaviruses can cause mild to moderate upper-respiratory tract infections — such as the common cold — but some, like COVID-19, can also cause more severe symptoms. 
Reported cases have ranged from mild illness, similar to a common cold, to severe pneumonia that requires hospitalization, according to county health officials. Flu-like symptoms, including fever, cough and difficulty breathing, may appear in as few as two days or as long as 14 days after exposure to the virus.  So far, deaths have been reported mainly in older adults who had existing health conditions, and most people will not experience complications and will recover without medical attention, said county health officials.
As of press time on Thursday afternoon, three presumptive positive cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed in Oregon:  Two in Washington County, and one in Umatilla County. Statewide, 45 tests for the virus have come back negative and 13 test results are pending. 
An $8.3 billion emergency spending bill to combat the outbreak was approved in the House of Representatives on Wednesday and the Senate on Thursday. The package includes over $3 billion for research and development of vaccines, according to USA Today, $2.2 billion for prevention, preparedness and response, and $1 billion for state and local response.
“It’s important that members of Congress of both parties stepped in to ensure that we have the equipment, tests, and other resources we need in our communities and public health agencies,” said Sen. Jeff Merkley.
Said Sen. Ron Wyden, “Keeping Oregonians healthy and safe, especially the most vulnerable in our state, is my number one priority. This emergency funding will help make sure Oregon and states around the country treat that priority with the urgency required by providing the resources they need to tackle any threat posed by COVID-19.”
“It is our local health authorities and public safety officials who form the front lines during outbreaks,” said Rep. Greg Walden. “I have a simple message for those officials, for my fellow Oregonians, and for the American people: We’re in this together and your government is with you.”
For more information, and to check for updated information about the coronavirus, visit the websites for OHA, www.oregon.gov/oha or the World Health Organization, www.who.int/westernpacific/emergencies/covid-19. Links to the Center for Disease Control’s webpage and the John Hopkins University Coronavirus Tracker, as well as guides for business and restaurant response, are available via the Hood River County’s website, www.co.hood-river.or.us (for the County Health Department’s page, click “Health Department” under the County Departments tab).

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