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Coronavirus testing is happening in Tillamook County, but it is not clear how many people are waiting for results or how many test kits are available locally.

The virus has claimed five lives in Oregon, with 191 cases reported in the state Monday, and 56 hospitalized for treatment. No COVID-19 cases have been confirmed in the county as of press time. Nine tests have come back negative, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Officials and medical staff cannot say how many test kits are available in the county because each health facility has its own supply, according to Marlene Putman, administrator, Tillamook County Community Health Centers. She said the current turnaround time for tests is approximately 48 hours, but that timeline has been widely questioned by the public.

“I can say that the supply is very limited in the county, state and nationally,” Putman said. “There has been some increased capacity this week … it is expected that there will be increasing capacity in the coming days and weeks.”

Through a medical screening process and provider clinical judgement, Community Health will determine who needs a medical appointment that may occur at the mobile clinic. The mobile clinic will be stationed in the parking lot of the Community Health Center clinic, located at 801 Pacific Ave. in Tillamook.

Putman said the Oregon State Public Health Lab (OSPHL) is conducting laboratory testing of prioritized samples sent to them using state and federal guidance. She said commercial labs can receive samples that may not meet the strict guidelines required to protect OSPHL inventory for higher risk cases, public health investigations and the safety net.

OSPHL can process up to 80 tests a day and is building surge capacity, Putman said. CDC guidelines on who should be tested included those with fever, cough, difficulty breathing and who have traveled to certain affected regions outside the U.S., and those who had close contact with someone diagnosed with COVID-19 or is hospitalized, has evidence of viral pneumonia and a negative influenza test.

A Tillamook lumber mill worker was tested for coronavirus, leading operations to shut down March 12 for cleaning. Mark Elston, Hampton Lumber Mill plant manager, said the employee was tested at the local hospital and advised by medical professionals to self-quarantine at home pending results.

“I am very happy to report that our employee finally just received a negative test result on their COVID-19 test,” Elston said in an email Monday, March 23.

Elston said upon learning of the possible infection risk, Hampton Lumber closed shop to clean and sanitize areas the employee frequented. He said the relevant break rooms, restrooms, offices, and control rooms were sanitized by a local cleaning service.

“We take the health and safety of our employees and the community very seriously,” Elston said.

The Tillamook County Board of Commissioners has urged the public to avoid unnecessary social contacts in the coming weeks. They hope to prevent a surge that would leave hospitals and clinics overwhelmed with sick patients.

Becky Hultberg, president and CEO of the Oregon Association of Hospitals and Health Systems (OAHHS), spoke out on the need for stronger social distancing measures to slow the spread of COVID-19. OAHHS represents Oregon’s 62 acute care hospitals.

"Hospitals and health systems are preparing for a surge in COVID-19 patients and it is critical that we have the capacity to care for those patients and others who present at our facilities,” Hultberg said. "Absent widespread testing and the ability to isolate patients, the public health tool we must use to avoid a rising patient surge is social distancing.”

Hultberg said OAHHS supports action on the state or local level to further limit retail commerce, unnecessary travel, and adopt shelter in place strategies.

Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley, a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said the CDC has awarded $7.2 million to Oregon to support the state’s effort to help contain and fight the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus. The funding is in addition to an initial $500,000 that the state received at the beginning of the month.

“As our states tackle the unique challenges of responding to coronavirus, the federal government needs to be a full partner,” Merkley said.

The new funding comes from a bipartisan $8.3 billion package of emergency funding signed into law earlier this month. Merkley pushed to secure more funding for the CDC, small business disaster loans, reimbursements for state and local government expenses incurred fighting the coronavirus, and support for tribal governments – all of which are included in the package.

A COVID-19 information line staffed by registered nurses is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday (Spanish available). If you have questions about flu-like symptoms or COVID-19 warning signs call: 503-842-3940. Dental services will be limited to essential care only. Non-essential dental procedures will be postponed and rescheduled. If you have urgent needs, call dental services staff at 503-842-2356.

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