Hermiston First in Area to Participate in Coronavirus Testing Project

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TRACE-COVID-19, Oregon State University’s project to determine community prevalence of the novel coronavirus, will sample community members in Hermiston this weekend, July 25-26, at the request of the Oregon Health Authority and Umatilla County Public Health in response to an outbreak of cases in county workplaces.

“OHA appreciates the OSU TRACE team’s willingness to conduct a sample survey in Hermiston, which will help us understand the prevalence of COVID-19 in the community,” said Dr. Dean Sidelinger, state epidemiologist and state health officer. “This data will help inform our partnership with Umatilla County to slow the spread of the disease.”

Hermiston, the largest city in northeastern Oregon at just over 18,000 people, is the first in the area to participate in the TRACE project. TRACE teams will visit 240 to 360 randomly selected residences throughout Hermiston and seek to collect as many as 400 to 500 samples from participating city residents.

“Understanding the spread of coronavirus is crucial to getting a handle on the disease that has impacted our Hermiston community so greatly,” said Hermiston Mayor Dave Drotzmann. “This weekend’s testing event is being conducted by health experts at Oregon State University and the community’s participation will help ensure the results are complete and reliable. We appreciate having state and local partners we can team up with to face this challenge.”

Umatilla County ranks first among the state’s 36 counties in the number of COVID-19 cases per 10,000 people, with 151.2 cases per 10,000 as of July 17. Most of the businesses where cases have spiked are in the food processing industry, but the list also includes Hermiston’s Walmart Distribution Center and Marlette Homes, a maker of manufactured houses.

TRACE-COVID-19 stands for Team-based Rapid Assessment of Community-Level Coronavirus Epidemics. Oregon State’s work in Hermiston will be a collaboration with Umatilla County Health. Hermiston residents comprise nearly a quarter of the county’s population of 78,000.

The OSU team also will analyze Hermiston wastewater for the presence and concentration of the coronavirus.

“Wastewater entering the city’s wastewater treatment plant will be sampled over several days to determine if the viral load is increasing, decreasing or staying steady over time,” said Tyler Radniecki, OSU College of Engineering associate professor. “Additionally, wastewater will be collected at sites throughout the city to help identify any areas that are showing higher levels of the coronavirus.”

OSU will analyze Boardman wastewater samples, as well, for the coronavirus.

At each home visited by TRACE field workers, members of the household will be invited to participate in the study. Those who choose to take part will be asked to provide information such as their name and date of birth; to fill out a simple consent form; and to answer a few confidential, health-related questions.

Participants will be given a nasal-swab test kit that they administer to themselves inside their home and their minor children if they want them to take part. The field staff wait will outside, and the participants leave the completed test kits outside their front door.

The tests used in TRACE-COVID-19 collect material from the entrance of the nose and are more comfortable and less invasive than the tests that collect secretions from the throat and the back of the nose.

The field workers will leave participants with information about the project; how they will receive their results; as well as health guidance from Umatilla County and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Participants in the study will receive their results and those of their minor children by secure e-mail with receipt by mail as a backup.

COVID-19 was first reported to the World Health Organization on Dec. 31, 2019, and has been confirmed in more than 13.6 million people worldwide and killed more than 585,000 people. In the United States, there have been more than 3.5 million reported cases – including more than 13,500 in Oregon – and more than 137,000 deaths nationwide.

Umatilla County has a total of 1,399 confirmed cases and 13 deaths as of July 22.

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