UNhealthy Hype

UPDATE — 27 March 2020:  First the bad news — one new death, 130 more people testing positive, one more county reported a positive test. Yamhill County reported the thirteenth death, its first, attributed to the Wuhan virus. All 13 people who have died resided in the Willamette Valley, with all but two in the northern half of the valley. They also belonged to the cohort reported to be most vulnerable — aged 60+, with five deaths each among those aged 70-79 years and those over 80 years. Marion County is virtually tied with Washington County for the highest percentage of positive cases per tested at 9.46% and  9.79% respectively. At the other end of the spectrum in the region are Multnomah County with a mere 3.31%, Yamhill County at 3.47%, and Clackamas County at 3.68%; the statewide percentage remains stable at 4.70%.

All but two — Coos and Curry — of the remaining eleven counties  that report no Wuhan cases are on the east side of the Cascades. Deschutes County reports 23 cases while the total number of cases in the rest of those counties is 16. This likely contributes to the overall lack of strain on medical resources. OHA reports that there remain available 2,010 regular adult hospital beds with an additional 285 adult ICU beds. Oregon hospitals report that they have 767 ventilators available.

To date, a bit over half of the people testing positive for the virus (316) have spent time in a hospital. On the other hand, there have been only 149 hospital admissions directly attributed to Wuhan. It's still too early to declare victory, but those advising the governor should certainly look to some alternatives to statewide action in order to concentrate resources where most needed.

UPDATE — 27 March 2020:  98 NEW CASES! WASHINGTON COUNTY REPORTS 30% OF OREGON CASES! Just a couple of the almost breathless (pun intended) headlines hyping today's OHA-updated Wuhan tracking report. What has been left out consistently by media is that the higher number of new cases over the last few days (75 on Wednesday, 98 today) simply reflects expanded testing capability. As of 9:30 this morning, when OHA posted its update, of 8,510 people tested, 414 returned positive; bottom-line, an infection rate per tested of 4.86%. Wednesday's reported figures translated to . . . 4.86%. Does anyone see anything over which to get so excited?

On a more somber note, four more counties reported their first Wuhan cases, leaving twelve — still 1/3 of Oregon's counties — virus-free. At the other end of the spectrum, Marion County now reports the highest percentage of positive reports per tested at 11.35%. Washington County, with the highest number of people reporting infection at 122, is just under 11%; the same counties reported the two deaths that brought the total to 12 (Actually, Grant County, which reports only one positive result, is highest since they have tested only that one person). In addition to the twelve counties with no infections, Jackson County, with nearly 1,000 tested, reports only six people returning positive — 0.63%.

UPDATE — 25 March 2020:  Nationally, President Trump yesterday expressed his hope that the country could begin returning to a normal footing by Easter. Would that Oregon listens since, even though reports from OHA show more people testing positive, the rate of spread is stable. OHA reported 75 new cases, raising to 266 the total number of people testing positive. 5,476 people have now been tested; still over 95% returning negative. All five new deaths occurred in the lower Willamette Valley — one more each in Marion, Multnomah, and Washington counties along with two deaths in Clackamas — bringing the total to ten. Two counties fell into the ranks of the infected, leaving 16 counties still reporting no one testing positive.

Exec. Order
Click on image to read entire order (8 pgs)

ORIGINAL POST: The words are severe. The faces display sincere earnestness. "Stay home. Stay healthy." Good advice? Sure. The Wuhan virus is on the loose. It is virulent, highly contagious at just about any stage, and deadly. As with any virus, no body is safe until its immune system beats down an infection, killing all viral organisms by producing antibodies. These antibodies remain in the body, preventing all future incursions of the particular virus, achieving immunity.

Therein lies the rub. Antibodies are custom-made for each virus. The slightest variation or mutation of a virus renders antibodies already created by one's immune system useless; the body must start all over again and that takes time. The Wuhan virus, aka COVID-19, belongs to a family of viruses generally known as Coronavirus, Latin for "crown", so named for its resemblance, when rendered in 2-D, to the sun's corona surrounding the moon during a solar eclipse. Ailments ranging Coronavirus from the "common" cold (more often caused, along with influenza, by Rhinovirus, however), to the much more serious, even deadly, Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), and Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) are caused by coronavirus. The World Health Organization (WHO) has determined that Wuhan is 70% genetically similar to SARS.

Although the documented recovery rate from the Wuhan virus hovers around 97%, with most experiencing mild symtoms and recovering in two to six weeks, many of those now immune have paid a pretty high price. The virus settles in the lungs, inflaming the alveoli and air sacs, causing them to fill with fluid that restricts the lungs' capacity to provide oxygen to the body. Like flu can lead to pneumonia, severe cases Wuhan can lead to Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS). A recent report in Business Insider examined experiences in Great Britain, pointing out, "[t]hough the lungs of coronavirus survivors could return to 'apparently normal' after six months with minimal issues — like a weakened ability to exercise — those who go on to develop ARDS could 'take as long as 15 years for their lungs to recover,' [according to intensive care physicians cited by] London's Sunday Times." The report also cited a Hong Kong Hospital Authority study that found loss of lung capacity could reach 20% to 30%. leaving those so "recovered" gasping for breath after a short quick-paced walk.

Compare viruses
Click on image to enlarge in new tab/window

So, yes, contracting Wuhan is not going to land on anyone's bucket list. Considering that one can be contagious even though asymptomatic, any sane person is going to take steps to avoid contact with people while adopting hygiene practices known to mitigate chances of getting sick — any sickness. After all, when news stories about Wuhan began to flood U.S. and local media, we were at the height of the winter cold and flu season. Graphics similar to the one at left proliferated on social media, along with others comparing prevalence of flu and Wuhan, offering at least a little solace that most likely one was not coming down with the latter. Even once it reached the U.S. and began spreading widely, one is more than a thousand times more likely to contract the flu.

It's even more stark in Oregon. As of 23 March, the Oregon Health Authority's official numbers reveal that of 3,840 people statewide who have been tested for Wuhan, only 191 have returned positive. That is less than a 5% rate of infection among those tested. Half of the counties report no cases at all. All five deaths reported in Oregon attributed to Wuhan have occurred in five Willamette Valley counties — one each in Washington (with the highest number of cases at 69), Multnomah (highest number tested but fewer than a third of the infections found in Washington county), Marion, Linn, and Lane.

Oregon finds itself sandwiched between two states where the number of cases long ago cracked four figures. California has more than ten times the number of cases reported here while Washington reports more than twenty times both cases and deaths; more than half of those cases and 80% of the deaths are from King County (read Seattle). Despite the fractional nature of the impact in this state, the governor on Monday issued Executive Order 20-12 that builds on previous directives to mirror California's "shelter-in-place" order prohibiting "non-essential" travel. Washington's governor followed suit later in the afternoon.

Chief among the justifications expressed by the governor was preventing crushing the capacity of hospitals to serve their communities. At 69 people testing positive for Wuhan in Washington county and given the size of the county, one could argue point made. But the bulk of the county's population is within a few miles of downtown Portland. It stands to reason that almost all of those 69 people, upon showing symptoms requiring hospitalization, can be adequately handled by one of the nearly ten hospitals in the Portland Metro area, leaving the hospital in Hillsboro able to serve the rest of the people living in the rural western portion of the county. Remember, Multnomah county has all of 20 people reporting positive for Wuhan.

Leading the charge to urge the governor's overreach were twenty-five mayors in the Portland Metro region, members of the Metropolitan Mayors Consortium. They were joined by the commissioners of the three counties and Metro in urging the governor to remove the heat that would have been on them for more targeted (though still wrong and wrong-headed) declarations that would have spared the rest of the state. Portland's mayor, Ted Wheeler, declared in an interview that had not the governor announced restrictions statewide, he and other mayors of the consortium would have issued their own.

Aside from the sketchy logistical and administrative arguments for the order, the governor blatantly contravenes fundamental precepts of liberty that undergird both the U.S. and Oregon constitutions. Conservatives and libertarians are raising questions over these acts, claiming they are tantamount to declarations of martial law. Indeed, by attaching Class C misdemeanor penalties to any charged violation of her orders, the governor clearly has grasped heartily her inner authoritarian. They see no justification for levying such severe restrictions on the life activities of Oregonians when half of the counties report no cases.

Most of the elected officials have sent out multiple newsletters regarding Wuhan over the past two months. In the interest of completeness, this site has chosen to preserve all of them rather than replacing each superseded one with the latest letter as is the normal practice. As long as the representative, senator, or commissioner writes principally about the virus in one's letter, we will add it as an update. The updates are placed above the previous communication, with the "original" letter appearing at the bottom of the page.

Of those who communicate through newsletter, Sen. Brian Boquist (SD 12), Sen. Kim Thatcher (SD 13), and Sen. Alan Olsen (SD 20) have not addressed Wuhan (Don't think, however, that you should ignore these letters. Sens. Boquist and Olsen wrote powerful letters regarding Cap & Scam. Both are worth reading). While each official adopts the government line, providing information regarding services available from both government and private non-profits, each reveals a unique focus. For a particularly Marion County-focused perspective, read Commissioner Colm Willis. To get the complete picture, be sure to read the letters and updates from Rep. Bill Post (HD 25), Rep. Christine Drazan (HD 39), Rep. Sherrie Sprenger (HD 17), Rep. Rick Lewis (HD 18), Rep. Raquel Moore-Green (HD 19), and Sen. Denyc Boles (SD 10). Go ahead and start with your elected official(s) before branching out to read the others. After all, you've probably got quite a bit of time on your hands as long as you are complying with Order 20-12. If not, who knows, maybe you will end up with nothing but time on your hands.


get updates