The state-defined coronavirus workplace outbreak linked to CHI Mercy Medical Center increased to 10 cases, according to a weekly report released by the Oregon Health Authority.
The state doesn’t offer specific information about each case, but the hospital said only one employee has tested positive. Eight other hospital employees are considered to be presumptive and one person from another organization “tested positive to our workplace,” according to the hospital’s Facebook page. All eight of the Mercy employees who are considered presumptive have returned negative tests, according to the hospital.
A workplace outbreak is reported by the state when a business has five or more cases — both confirmed and presumptive — and includes all persons linked to the outbreak, which may include household members and other close contacts. Even those who test negative for the virus but were once considered presumptive continue to count toward the workplace’s total case number until a 28-day period has passed without a new case.
“A presumptive case who tests negative remains a presumptive case unless the person is diagnosed with another more likely illness (like the flu). The OHA treats presumptive and confirmed the same with regard to isolation and contact tracing. While we won’t discuss individual test results, all the cases reported in this outbreak are epidemiologically linked to Mercy Health Mercy Medical Center,” said Tim Heider, a spokesman for the health authority.
Hospital officials raised questions about the data after they said there is still just one employee who tested positive. The employee was not exposed to the virus at work, officials said, and all of the other cases are considered presumptive.
The outbreak was originally reported by the Douglas County COVID-19 Response Team on Aug. 4. In a press release, the county said the hospital was expected to be on the state’s workplace outbreak list. The state spokesman confirmed the outbreak to The News-Review at the time, but the hospital was not officially listed on the state’s Aug. 5 or Aug. 12 weekly report. The hospital finally appeared on Wednesday’s report, two weeks after the county originally reported the outbreak.
State officials said the delay was partially due to the hospital raising questions about the data.
In an email to Heider, Kathleen Nickel, a spokeswoman at Mercy, said the hospital didn’t understand why the employee’s negative tests were not being considered by the health authority.
“It continues to remain a very large concern to our organization that employees who repeatedly test negative, remain on your presumed positive list and are included in the state’s count,” she wrote. “We have shared this information with our public, much to their surprise. It’s hard to understand the value to the public or any public good that comes from that inclusion. It would be more transparent for the state’s health organization to list only numbers that should be noted as confirmed positive. A repeated negative test, statically is relevant as a negative at some point in time.”
Dean Sidelinger, Oregon’s state health officer, said on Facebook Live that COVID-19 tests aren’t perfect, which is why they don’t give negative tests much weight.
“If a presumptive case tests negative, we will keep them as a presumptive case,” he said. “The reason for that is they have the symptoms of COVID-19, they were exposed to someone with COVID-19, so it is still likely that they could have COVID-19 and infect others.
“Our tests aren’t perfect. … But sometimes if that test is negative, it’s what we call a false negative. The person may still have the disease, but the test didn’t show it,” he said.
Two other businesses in Douglas County have, or have had, a workplace outbreak. Norris Blueberry Farms in Umpqua reported 27 cases between June 25 and July 30. Romtec in Glide had 8 cases between July 1-14.
Meanwhile, Douglas County had two new positive cases Wednesday, bringing the count of total presumptive and positive cases to 167. There have been 150 positive cases and 17 presumptive cases. There are 15 people in isolation and three are hospitalized.
The state reported 203 new cases, as numbers continue to drop, but there were 11 new deaths running the state total to 408. Six of the deaths were in Multnomah County, Clackamas County had 3, one each in Washington and Polk counties.
A downward trend is continuing for the state. For the week of Aug. 10-16, the OHA recorded 1,963 new cases 159 lower than the week before. Deaths fell from 39 to 31 and new hospitalizations dropped from 143 to 115.