COOS BAY — At least seven Walmart employees have tested positive for COVID-19, and one more is presumed to have the virus according to Coos Health & Wellness.
As of Monday morning, the outbreak is believed to be limited to Walmart employees, including some in the pharmacy. Contact tracers and investigators are working to determine if more individuals are impacted.
The pharmacy was closed for part of last week, but has reopened. Eric Gleason, assistant director for CHW, said in a press briefing Monday that Walmart customers, including at the pharmacy, shouldn't be concerned about possible exposure unless they notice symptoms.
"It's safe to go to Walmart, if you do it based on all the other preventative measures," referring to guidelines around wearing masks, maintaining social distance and washing hands frequently. "It's safe to go anywhere, to go shopping, provided you're utilizing the preventative measures."
The first case at the store was reported on Thursday, according to health officials. Gleason said that Walmart has taken the appropriate precautions since then, including closing the pharmacy and sanitizing impacted areas.
"We need to wear masks, we need to ensure masks are being worn," Gleason said. "We need to wash our hands, maintain our distance, try not to go places we don't truly need to go, and really focus on these measures we've really been pushing for a long time."
County sees spike in cases
Coos County reported 17 new cases of COVID-19 over the weekend, up to 220 as of Monday. That includes 30 active cases, plus an additional 131 people under monitoring, health officials said.
Two individuals in the county are hospitalized with the virus, including one person who has been in the hospital for at least a week and one new patient. Both are in stable condition, officials said.
"With the numbers moving the way they are, I'm always going to be concerned that we're going in the wrong direction," Gleason said.
The increase in cases isn't attributable to any one event, Gleason said, but he is concerned about reports that county residents often go to work in spite of having COVID-19 symptoms.
"I know its hard for some people to say 'I can't go to work,'" Gleason said. "If you go to work sick, you're far more likely to be off much longer, and it affects other people."
Instead, Gleason said that anyone who experiences COVID-19 symptoms should stay home from work and quarantine. The state offers temporary paid time off for employees who can't work from home and don't have access to other paid time off (more information is available online at www.oregon.gov/covidpaidleave).
School status not changing, yet
As of Monday, kindergarten through third grade classes can remain in session in Coos County, though Gleason said a continued increase in cases could change that status.
"I'm optimistic that we can keep those non-affected cohorts going in the right direction," Gleason said. "But if things get out of hand, I know that we're all worried that the direction we're going is definitely increasing much faster than we had hoped."
The state's guidance isn't specific about if or when in-person classes will be required to revert to online instruction, but state officials have said they're discussing those scenarios. During the week of Oct. 4, Coos County exceeded 30 cases per 100,000 in population, a key metric in the decision to reopen schools (but since schools are already open, that number doesn't necessarily mean they must close again).
Officials in Coos Bay Public Schools are watching case rates in the community, and preparing for the possibility of a "pause" in in-person learning, according to an announcement last week.
"It is important however, that we also continue to prepare our students and ourselves for a potential move to (comprehensive distance learning) for K-3," Superintendent Bryan Trendell wrote in the announcement. "If we have an outbreak in our schools we may need to temporarily pause in-person learning for a cohort or a school."
In the meantime, Gleason pointed to recent cases from family members at Sunset and Madison schools as reasons good examples of why precautions matter: If parents accidentally expose their children to the virus, they might be endangering their child's school cohort, too.
"I've got a fourth grader, I would really like if she was back at school. I have a kindergartner, I would really prefer that she stays in school," Gleason said. "However if we truly want out kids to be able to stay in school, or if we want to get to a point at some point where kids can go back to school, we have to take preventative measures seriously."