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70-year-old veteran is first COVID-19 death in Oregon

Illustration of the 2019 Novel Coronavirus, COVID-19. (CDC/TNS)

A 70-year-old man has died of COVID-19, Oregon Health Authority officials said, marking the first known death in the state of the disease caused by the coronavirus.

The Multnomah County resident had been hospitalized at Portland’s Veterans’ Affairs Medical Center. He tested positive just four days ago and reportedly had other health problems.

State and county health officials declined to answer additional questions about the man. But they offered statements in reaction to his death, which came a little more than two weeks after the first presumed case of the coronavirus was reported in Oregon. That case involved an employee at a Lake Oswego elementary school who lived in Washington County.

The veteran’s case is not associated with the outbreak at a Lebanon assisted living facility, where there are nine presumptive cases.

It’s been a nonstop torrent of news in the weeks since then, and despite a lack of significant and coordinated testing around Oregon or the nation, 11 counties have presumed coronavirus cases as of Saturday.

Gov. Kate Brown, who in recent days ordered a ban on gatherings greater than 250 people and subsequently shuttered public schools for several weeks, said that even though the state “knew this day would come,” it does not make the news any easier.

Dan Herrigstad, a spokesperson for the VA medical center, confirmed the man’s death. He said the 70-year-old was the first known in-patient case where a veteran in Portland or Vancouver was even tested for coronavirus. He was also the first presumptive positive.

He first tested positive for COVID-19 on March 10, and state health officials said he had “underlying health conditions.”

He had not traveled to a country where the virus was confirmed.

As of Saturday, Oregon had 36 presumed cases of novel coronavirus. Dozens more are still awaiting a diagnosis.

In Washington state, 40 people are known to have died from coronavirus as of Saturday, the most in the country.

In a statement, Brown described the man as “an honored veteran who served his country to protect the freedoms we all hold dear.”

At the same time as she recognized his death, Brown urged Oregonians to take collective action to help slow the rate of infections by avoiding large events and staying home when sick. “I have every confidence in the health professionals who are working day and night to contain the coronavirus in Oregon,” she said, “and I will do everything within my power to ensure they have the resources they need to continue their work with all available speed.”

Patrick Allen, director of the state’s health authority, issued a separate statement, saying Oregon had been braced for this news: “Our thoughts and deepest sympathy are with the family of this individual who honorably served his country.”

“This is a sobering reminder that this virus is in our community and can be serious for older people and those with underlying conditions,” Dr. Jennifer Vines, Multnomah County Health Officer, said in a statement. “This loss has motivated us to continue our efforts to minimize the impact of this virus on our community.”

Herrigstad, the VA spokesperson, said the hospital started curtailing the number of visitors patients could receive sometime “at or around” the time the 70-year-old man first tested positive for COVID-19. Patients would only be allowed one visitor.

As of Friday evening, the hospital updated its policy again. Visitors were forbidden altogether.

Herrigstad said he understands people want to visit friends or family, but many of the patients who are in the VA facility are already vulnerable to coronavirus. “That’s who we’re really putting at risk,” he said. “It’s that much more important that people follow those instructions.”

The 70-year-old man died the following day.

This article is being published through a collaborative effort by newspapers statewide to share the latest news and information about the coronavirus.


© 2020 The Register-Guard