SALEM, Ore. (AP) — The Oregon Health Authority reported 178 new confirmed coronavirus cases Thursday, marking the highest daily count in the state since the start of the pandemic.
Officials said part of the reason for the increased case number is due to the expansion of “widespread availability of testing, increased contact tracing, active monitoring of close contacts of cases” and recent workplace outbreaks.
Thursday’s cases bring the new total number of people who have tested positive for coronavirus in Oregon to 5,237. In addition, two more people have died from the disease, raising the state’s death toll to 171, the Oregon Health Authority reported.
The second highest daily case count in the state was 146 cases Sunday, June 7.
Gov. Kate Brown said Thursday evening that the noticeable increase in COVID-19 infections was cause for concern and that in response she is putting all county applications for further reopening on hold for seven days.
“This is essentially a statewide ‘yellow light,’ she said in a news release ”This one week pause will give public health experts time to assess what factors are driving the spread of the virus and determine if we need to adjust our approach to reopening.”
The Governor’s Office this week received four applications for reopening that are now on hold. Multnomah County’s application to enter phase 1, and applications from Hood River, Marion, and Polk counties to enter phase 2 have been put on hold for one week.
Oregon Health Authority officials were not surprised with the increase.
“As testing increases we will find more cases that our out there,” Patrick Allen, the director of the Oregon Health Authority, said at a news conference Thursday.
“Much of the testing going on is focused on higher risk areas, like long-term care and high density work environments.”
Last week more than 20,500 tests were conducted, according to state data.
But, testing isn’t the only reason for the uptick in cases, Allen said.
“There is expanded contact tracing,” Allen said. “We have dedicated $11 million to counties, within the last two weeks, to support hiring of new contact tracers.”
Lastly, Allen said as counties have reopened, and many entering phase 2 of the state’s reopening plan, there are simply more cases of coronavirus.
“As we expected the number of cases are going up,” Allen said. “The question has always been, can we manage that in a way that doesn’t prevent the cases from going up but prevents it from overwhelming our systems.”
It is still too early, following the reopening of Oregon counties, to determine how quickly the virus is spreading, Allen said.
But he reiterated that during this time Oregonians should continue to practice physical distancing, wash their hands, cover their mouth when they cough and wear a mask in areas where it is difficult to properly physical distance.
For most, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death.
AP writer Lisa Baumann contributed to this story from Seattle.