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OHA to take on role of reporting of large COVID-19 workplace outbreaks

May 28, 2020

The Oregon Health Authority (OHA) will begin reporting large COVID-19 outbreaks in workplaces, based on a directive from agency head Patrick Allen. Effective immediately, OHA will publicly report all past and future outbreaks that involve five or more COVID-19 cases in a workplace setting, no matter where the outbreak is located.

The only exception to the new policy would be if the disclosure would identify an individual or a reporting source.

As a home rule state, Oregon’s public health system is a partnership between OHA and county health departments. Currently, responsibility for investigating and reporting any communicable disease outbreak rests with a lead public health agency, in most cases a local public department, if the outbreak is limited to a single county jurisdiction. OHA is the lead agency in public health investigations that involve multiple counties or the Oregon portion of a national outbreak.

Reporting on any public health investigation must balance public health and safety, the need to ensure full cooperation by people who are affected by the outbreak so health officials can best protect the public, and patient privacy. Oregon’s public health investigations statute limits the disclosure of information. Health officials are only permitted to report information when public health is at risk, or when the agency publishes the data.

Director Allen said, “The COVID-19 pandemic demands that we all rethink how we accomplish necessary tasks that are vital to our roles. OHA believes a consistent, transparent statewide approach to reporting COVID-19 cases in workplaces will give Oregonians more information to help people avoid the risks of COVID-19 infections. We want to ensure employers, workers and customers know the same criteria will apply, no matter where they work or what businesses they support, everywhere in Oregon.”

OHA will publish information about all workplace outbreaks involving 5 or more cases through news releases and other regular COVID-19 communications channels and publications, including its COVID-19 website.