The Oregon Health Authority has narrowed the coronavirus cases tied to Columbia Memorial Hospital.
In a weekly report on workplace outbreaks released on Wednesday, the health authority listed 14 cases dating from Nov. 27 to Dec. 22. The state had previously detailed 27 cases from Nov. 27 to Jan. 14.
The health authority discloses outbreaks at businesses with 30 or more workers once five virus cases are reported.
Jonathan Modie, a spokesman for the health authority, said that after some deeper investigation, the state’s epidemiological team determined the more recent cases had no association with the earlier related cluster. The state considers virus cases related — part of a workplace outbreak — unless a more likely alternative source is identified.
“Our epi team did some deeper investigation with the hospital and were able to identify several cases that were originally associated with the hospital who had more probable exposure elsewhere (largely due to social gatherings and other workplace outbreaks that affected family members),” he said in an email. “After reviewing those details, they updated the outbreak to reflect only those cases with probable exposure at work.”
Modie said that sometimes it takes time to obtain all of the appropriate information and that going back for deeper investigation is routine practice.
“We collaborate with local public health and employee health at the hospital to determine both work and personal exposures to identify probable transmission,” he said. “We obtained additional data for the more recent cases, which led us to recharacterize the outbreak. It wasn’t due to any undue concern.”
When the health authority’s initial report was released on Jan. 27, the Astoria hospital objected to the state’s characterization of the virus cases as an outbreak. The hospital said there was no active outbreak at that time and that the 27 cases were cumulative of employees who tested positive for the virus over nearly two months.
The hospital acknowledged that five employees who tested positive for the virus during the week of Nov. 27 “met OHA’s definition of an outbreak.”
Nicole Williams, Columbia Memorial’s chief operating officer, said she reached out to the health authority and provided the epidemiological team the hospital’s investigatory notes and context for the virus cases. She said it took about a week to get it completely resolved.
“We always conduct investigations right away when we hear about a positive case from an employee,” Williams said. “So we do our own investigation into how they could have acquired COVID, whether it’s an internal or external source.
“They were very willing to work with us, and even in the future we’ll definitely be more proactive about providing them that additional information. The county provides them some investigatory notes — that’s where they were getting their information from — but we’ll also be providing our notes on it so that they have our information as well,” she said. “And they said they’d be more than happy to review those.”