SALEM, Ore. — Oregon health officials warned even before the state began its reopening process that there would be rising cases of coronavirus as testing expanded, but the latest testing data shows why those same officials have recently been sounding the alarm. Not only are cases spiking, but the rate of positive cases out of total tests has been steadily climbing since reopening began in earnest.
Over the weekend, the Oregon Health Authority reported that the state had surpassed 10,000 positive cases following a week of record high single-day increases. By Monday, the agency said that there were 10,395 confirmed or presumptive cases.
The state also released a weekly testing summary on Monday, logging the number of tests performed and the number of positive or negative cases by week since the outbreak began.
In February and into early March, Oregon's rate of COVID-19 positivity was relatively high as only a handful of individuals showing extremely relevant symptoms were tested. But as testing gradually began to expand and restrictions went into effect, the positivity rate dropped from 9 percent in early March to 1.6 percent by the second half of May.
Between April and May, Oregon ramped up testing from just over 7,000 per week to more than 20,000. Last week, nearly 40,000 tests were processed.
Yet the rate of positivity for those tests has climbed steadily since it bottomed out in May, reaching 5.3 percent last week.
"Oregon’s number of tests performed has been steadily increasing, but the number of positive cases and the test positivity rate have increased significantly since late May," OHA said in a statement. "This suggests increasing numbers of individuals with COVID-19, which is expected now that all counties are in Phase 1 or Phase 2 of reopening. Recent large outbreaks around the state have also contributed to these increases."
On July 1, a statewide rule mandating face coverings for indoor public spaces went into effect, while local officials urged the public to observe social distancing and sanitation precautions heading into the Independence Day weekend.
Governor Kate Brown also announced a county "watch list," flagging several areas that have seen a rise in community spread cases that were not successfully sourced through contact tracing.
The OHA report noted that Oregon's cumulative positive testing rate was 3.7 percent of the total as of July 5 — much lower than the national average of 9 percent.
State officials said that Oregon reached its goal of testing 2 percent of the state population each month in early June, but also warned that this capacity may not continue to expand — in fact, it could retract due to growing demand across the country.
"OHA has received information that testing supply allocations from several major manufacturers to OSPHL and clinical labs in Oregon are being or may be reduced due to increasing national demand," the agency's report said. "It is expected that the recent spike in positive COVID-19 testing in southern and western states will have an impact on all testing supplies."