Lane County’s recent spike in COVID-19 infections kicked off when the University of Oregon’s fall term started. Gov. Kate Brown has now put Lane County on her “watch list.” Lane County is one of five counties to be on the list.
The governor puts counties on the list when the case rate is 50 or more per 100,000 people in the last two weeks, and Lane County has had more than five sporadic cases in the last two weeks. Counties are on the list for at least three weeks and until case rates drop below the thresholds. On Oct. 16, Lane County Public Health reported that there are now 2,041 total cases in the county — an uptick of 82 from Oct. 15 to Oct. 16 — and 212 currently infectious people, an increase of 37.
“There is no question that the spread of COVID-19 in Lane County is connected — to a degree — to student social activities. Social gatherings, like off-campus parties, are incredibly dangerous and spread this disease,” Brown said in a statement. “Let me be clear, though: It will take the entire county working together to bring these COVID-19 numbers under control. Once COVID-19 is spreading in the community, small family get-togethers can also lead to dozens of infections.”
Lane County Public Health spokesperson Jason Davis has expressed concern that putting the blame for spreading the virus on students leads to them not wanting to participate in contact tracing or even admitting they are sick. The off-campus parties involve community members as well as UO students.
At an Oct. 15 press conference, Davis said the county would start reporting the number of people who have not answered contact tracing calls.
Lane County as a whole has 1,095 COVID-19 cases since Sept. 21, according to data from Oregon Health Authority. From Sept. 27 to Oct. 19, Lane County had 155 cases per 100,000 people.
In the past two weeks, Lane County reports that 11 to 30-year-olds have accounted for 385 cases — or 43 percent of cases. The county reports that these numbers mostly come from the 97401 zip code. 97401 has the largest all-time case count in the area, according to OHA: It has had 393 cases (969 per 100,000 people).
According to the UO’s self-reported data, there have been a total of 362 cases since Sept. 21 from off-campus and on-campus students and employees, but the lion’s share of the numbers come from students who live off-campus. Nonetheless, the University of Oregon has plans for fall sports — with its first home football game against Stanford scheduled for Nov. 7.
UO’s director of the Center for Science Communication Research and professor Ellen Peters tweets the probabilities of catching COVID-19 at a party. On Oct. 10, she tweeted that if you go to a party with 10 people there’s a 7 percent chance of one COVID-19 positive person being there — and it moves up to 50 percent if there are 100 people at the party.
When a county is on the watch list, the state is allowed to prioritize resources and assistance to the counties, the governor’s press release says. OHA also increases its monitoring and communication and mobilizes additional technical assistance and resources, such as epidemiological support, case investigation and contact tracing help.
Counties are put on the watch list when the virus spreads quickly and public health officials cannot trace the spread to specific sources. Lane joins Benton, Clatsop, Malheur and Umatilla counties.