As the state enters a two-week shutdown because of escalating COVID-19 case counts and hospitalizations, 32 Democratic lawmakers have written to the architect of that shutdown, Gov. Kate Brown, asking her for answers about the state's rate of testing, which the Johns Hopkins University COVID-19 project has consistently ranked among the nation's lowest.
"The recent spike in COVID-19 cases coupled with the statewide freeze announced on Friday raises concerns about Oregon's current approach to the pandemic," the lawmakers wrote. "At the forefront of the problem, the lack of available, easily accessible testing remains a concern that must be addressed immediately."
The lawmakers noted that despite state promises to do better, numbers reported by the Oregon Health Authority continue to lag.
"We were relieved when OHA announced in early October that tests to conduct 60,000-80,000 rapid antigen tests each week through the end of the year were available," the letter said. "Yet OHA data shows only 34,307 tests completed in the most recent weekly report, a slight decrease from the previous week."
The lawmakers said that state policy on testing, which allows local authorities leeway to do things as they see fit, has resulted in a patchwork of inequitable and underresourced approaches that have left Oregonians bereft of information about how, when and where testing is available and who will pay for it.
"We cannot afford to continue with the current testing systems in place today," the letter concludes. "Oregonians need certainty and they need access to testing. Increased testing is a key factor in decreasing the spread of COVID-19 to limit the impact on our health care system and our economy. We urge implementation of aggressive testing strategies in advance of the holiday season and utilization of all resources available to immediately expand rapid testing availability and contact tracing."
In the wake of the letter, the Oregon Health Authority today announced 1,225 new cases, a single day record, as well as 20 new deaths, also a record for most COVID-19 fatalities reported in a day, and a record level of hospitalization.
Brown's spokesperson was not immediately available for comment.