Oregon health officials announced Friday evening the state's first presumed case of the novel coronavirus in a man who lives in Washington County and works for the Lake Oswego School District — specifically at Forest Hills Elementary.
The school district announced Friday it would be closing Forest Hills Elementary through next Wednesday, March 4, and that all activities at all school district facilities would be canceled this weekend.
“As a district, we are taking firm and decisive action and we will continue to closely monitor the situation,” Lake Oswego Supt. Lora de la Cruz said at a press conference Saturday. “Although we were advised that we do not have to close Forest Hills, we elected to close it in an abundance of caution and care for the children and adults in our schools and community.”
De la Cruz said in a statement sent to parents and the media that the patient with the presumptive case of coronavirus is in a role at the school that does not typically have close contact with students.
“At this point it appears that this person likely only had close contact with a few individuals,” she said. “[Those individuals] will be asked to stay home from work or school for two weeks, monitor themselves for symptoms and take their temperatures daily, and stay in regular contact with their health care providers and the local public health department.”
She clarified at Saturday’s press conference that the individuals asked to stay home include school staff members who visited their colleague at the hospital.
De la Cruz clarified close contact as meaning “contact with another person within about 6 feet, making it easier to pass respiratory droplets that are produced when a person coughs or sneezes.”
Walking by someone in a hallway or stairwell does not constitute close contact, she said.
Justus Rogers lives in Lake Oswego and plays basketball twice a week at a free open gym Forest Hills hosts. He said he and a group of about 12 or 15 other men usually participate.
Rogers said even though it’s unknown who the employee is and who the man came into contact with, he isn’t anxious. Rogers describes himself as a “clean freak” who often uses hand sanitizer and frequently washes his hands. He said his neighbors and others in the community seem a little more on edge.
“It seems like the vibe on social media is that a lot of people are really panicking,” Rogers said. “They don’t know what to do.”
“... I’m sure it’s a shocker for parents and teachers because we know how fast germs can spread in a school. … We have no idea how bad this could possibly get, but obviously we’re praying for the best.”
De la Cruz said the school employee became ill on Feb. 19 and stayed home from work. She said the school will be closed through Wednesday because that will be the 14-day point from when the person became ill. Fourteen days is the presumed incubation period of the coronavirus.
“That will complete the recommended 14 days after exposure, allow us to clean the school thoroughly, to let local, state and federal public health professionals conduct their investigation, and to let everyone take a few days off to stay healthy."
De la Cruz said the school district has contracted with an industrial cleaning company called SERVPRO, which began its evaluation of the Forest Hills Saturday.
“They are making a plan for cleaning which may begin as early as this weekend,” she said.
De la Cruz said Forest Hills is the only school in the district that has had an exposure and that therefore there is no need to close any other campuses at this time.
Dr. Sarah Present, deputy tri-county public health officer for Clackamas County, echoed that:
“At this time there is no indication that other schools are at risk. There’s no reason to limit your exposure to children or others in this school community due to the potential exposure, unless they themselves are ill,” Present said. “If we have any new cases or new concerns in our community, we will address the further needs for school closures or other recommendations for the public as needed and as they arise.”
De la Cruz advises people to take the same basic precautions doctors recommend during flu season such as staying home if you’re sick, washing your hands frequently and covering your mouth for coughs and sneezes.
As of Saturday morning, the Oregon case is still presumed, meaning the patient’s test results still need to be confirmed by a second test done by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The origin of the coronavirus in this case is still unknown. The individual had no recent travel history, nor did they come into close contact with someone who had recently traveled.
Officials in Seattle reported Saturday that a patient there has died from the virus, the first death from the illness in the United States.