Alarmed health officials in Oregon said this week that several hundred — and perhaps as many as 500 — residents of the state could be unknowingly carrying the Wuhan coronavirus (COVID-19), meaning the outbreak there could soon explode.
As Oregon Live reports, on Monday state health officials reported that a third ‘presumptive’ case of the virus had been founding in a casino worker who attended a youth basketball game at Umatilla County middle school.
That led Dr. Dean Sidelinger, the state health officer, to predict that not only would there be more cases of the virus, some of them could prove to be fatal.
“We know that people are scared. We are learning more and more about this disease every day,” he said, according to the local news site.
Oregon Live added:
Of the three Oregon patients, one has mild symptoms but the Oregon Health Authority has declined to give out the conditions of the other two, who are receiving hospital treatment.
Sidelinger continued to urge calm and advise regular hand-washing, even as the epidemiologist acknowledged that having multiple cases of unknown origin in the state could mean that the coronavirus is “fairly widespread in our community.”
At that time, Oregon health officials said they were currently monitoring 101 people for symptoms, mostly due to their recent travel patterns or because they had contact with other people already diagnosed with the illness.
In a March 3 report, Oregon Live noted that Sidelinger — a health officer but also an epidemiologist — said between 300 and 500 Oregonians could be carrying the virus, which will become evident, if true, within a week or so.
Still, state health officials are not prepared to order people who, so far, aren’t exhibiting any symptoms, to remain at home and away from places of work.
“I’m not pessimistic and giving up that it’s going to spread like wildfire,” he said.
Still, state authorities could intervene at some point in the near future such as recommending or even ordering school closures, cancellation of local events, and requesting that vulnerable people — very young, very old, sick — stay at home and out of the public square. (Related: Spirulina found to boost the body’s type 1 interferon response to fight RNA viral infections “including coronavirus,” new science finds.)
“It’s really looking at community by community,” said Sidelinger, though he noted that the mass quarantines in China ordered by the Communist government did “seem to have turned the course of the disease” (if you can believe official Chinese government figures, and we don’t).
“While we want to keep everyone safe, we have to weigh it against (restrictions on) the broader population,” the doctor added.
For now. But what if mass outbreak occurs? Oregon officials likely won’t have much of a choice.
Already, Oregon Live noted in a separate report, dozens of hospital staff at Kaiser Permanente Westside Medical Center in Hillsboro were quarantined after health officials suspected they came into contact with the virus.
“Per current CDC guidelines, people who have had contact with COVID-19 patients are asked to maintain self-isolation at home for 14 days,” said Dr. Mary E. Giswold, associate director of Kaiser’s hospital and post-acute care. “Some of our staff, including nurses and physicians, met the criteria for contact and are on furlough. The number of furloughed staff changed daily, as we began with an abundance of caution and followed with a more detailed investigation into whether contact occurred.”
At one point, as many as 70 people were believed to have been ordered into quarantine, the news site reported.
As of this writing, there are only about 150 known cases of coronavirus throughout the United States. But there have been enough people who ought to know say they suspect the outbreak will become much wider in the coming weeks.