As much consternation as it has caused reporters attempting to track the spread of the novel coronavirus in our community, there is a very simple reason the Canby Fire District and other agencies have declined to share the numbers of positive cases of COVID-19 in Canby: They don’t have them.
Although Canby Fire, as the primary responder for emergency medical calls in the local area, would generally be the first point of contact for residents suffering from a serious case of COVID-19, they are not the testing or reporting agency for tracking the spread of the virus.
The tests, if deemed necessary, would be done by the hospital or health care facility. They would be reported to Clackamas County Public Health and the Oregon Health Authority — which is sharing statewide numbers, but only at a county level.
The numbers are not reported back to the emergency medical agency, as Fire Chief Jim Davis explained in an April 9 letter posted to social media and also shared with the Canby Now Podcast.
“The Firefighters/EMS personnel do not receive any information on people who have been tested positive or negative for the coronavirus,” Chief Davis explained. “All our patient’s medical information is required by law to remain confidential and not to be shared with anyone. ”
Local firefighters and emergency medical personnel have been donning personal protective equipment for all medical calls, to protect themselves and to prevent the spread of the virus to others in the community.
Canby police are also required to wear PPE for medical calls, but generally defer to the primary medical responder due to the scarcity of these supplies.
“For police, fire, and EMS personnel, it does not matter the number of coronavirus cases, as we take the same universal precautions for everyone we assist,” Chief Davis said.
Canby Fire, Canby Police, the City of Canby and Canby Area Chamber of Commerce activated the local joint Emergency Operations Center, or EOC, at the main fire station on South Pine four weeks ago. The incident command team has been providing daily plans, which are shared with the county and state, the chief said.
Canby Foursquare Church has been hosting and providing a livestreamed community meeting hosting the EOC members and other local organizations every Wednesday at 5 p.m. A Spanish-language version is presented on Thursdays from CTV Channel 5 studios.
“We are all in this together,” Chief Davis said. “You are not alone. Please, if you need to reach out, I know that the Canby community has numerous churches, the Canby Center, and other vital organizations willing and able to support you and your families.”
According to Todd Gary, the retired longtime public information officer for Canby Fire, who is also working with the EOC, the only circumstances in which a positive would be reported directly to the local operations center would be if there were a confirmed case in one of the city’s senior care facilities.
Fortunately, that has not happened.
“Thank goodness,” Gary said. “Our care facilities are doing a good job. They isolated their facilities very early as to not introduce anything and have a very rigid system for their staff to have their temperature checked daily and screened for symptoms.”
Gary was understanding of the frustrations, during this time when some residents are acting as if Judgment Day is upon us, while others say it’s all a hoax. The one antidote to confusion — real, verifiable local information — is in short supply.
“I think everyone thinks we are hiding something, but we’re not,” Gary said. “As a PIO, I would give media that number, because it doesn’t change or alter our mission. I just don’t have it.”
Clackamas has seen 109 of the state’s 1,321 positive cases as of Thursday morning, fourth-most among Oregon counties. It has also experienced three of Oregon’s 44 deaths.
The first confirmed case in the Canby area was an employee at Willamette Egg Farms, who has since recovered.
More recently, Fire Division Chief Matt English cited concerns from a local family dealing with a case of COVID-19 as one motivation for a strict burn ban they established earlier this week.
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