Thursday, November 26, 2020
Nov. 26, 2020

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Push on for more virus testing in Oregon

Lawmakers write to Gov. Brown with call to action

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PORTLAND — Oregon has reported a record number of coronavirus cases Friday, with hospitalizations at their highest since the pandemic began, officials said.

The state hit a daily record of 1,306 COVID-19 cases, the Oregon Health Authority reported. The number of people hospitalized with the virus in Oregon was 414 Thursday, the highest number since the pandemic began and a 142 percent increase since the beginning of November, according to state health data released Thursday.

Nearly three dozen current and incoming Oregon lawmakers have sent a letter to Gov. Kate Brown demanding an immediate increase in COVID-19 testing statewide as case numbers spike, The Oregonian/OregonLive reported Friday.

The letter sent earlier this week by 32 Republican and Democratic lawmakers from the Willamette Valley emphasized that California and Washington surpass Oregon in the number of people tested but Oregon’s test positivity rate — the percentage of tests that are positive — is much higher than in those states.

Oregon’s positivity rate recently topped 12 percent while California’s is 5.6 percent and Washington’s is 4.8 percent.

The Oregonian/OregonLive found that the number of people tested now barely exceeds the number tested in July. Oregon is now identifying an average of nearly 990 new cases a day, a record. Brown has not responded to the bipartisan letter.

Roughly 45,000 Oregonians were tested the first week of November — about 10 percent more than in July — even though Oregon’s case numbers have gone up 2 1/2 times, according to preliminary state data cited by the newspaper.

Two-week ‘freeze’

Brown ordered a two-week “freeze” on social activities that began Wednesday, closed all restaurant dining except for takeout, shut down museums and other public gathering spaces and limited retail to 75 percent of capacity.

The state health agency Brown oversees should provide uniform statewide guidelines for who can be tested and should make it easy for Oregonians in all counties to find where they can get a test, the letter’s signatories wrote.

“We cannot afford to continue with the current testing systems in place today,” the lawmakers wrote to Brown, a Democrat. “Oregonians need certainty and they need access to testing.”

“Increased testing is a key factor in decreasing the spread of COVID-19 to limit the impact on our health care system and our economy,” the letter said. “We urge implementation of aggressive testing strategies in advance of the holiday season and utilization of all resources available to immediately expand rapid testing availability and contact tracing.”

Brown’s office did not immediately respond to requests for comment from the newspaper.

Oregon’s testing woes have long been known. Large hospitals across the state expanded testing capacity at the beginning of the pandemic by building lab capacity from scratch. But the state has been slow to grow it further.

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