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UMATILLA COUNTY, OR -The Coronavirus is spreading through rural America and it's overwhelming small towns. In Oregon, data shows Umatilla County is reporting the highest number of COVID-19 cases per capita in the state.

So far there are 1,462 reported cases of COVID-19 and 11 deaths in Umatilla County where the population is about 77,000 people, and the situation is overwhelming the health department.

Umatilla County Public Health Director, Joseph Fiumara says they are also having to cut many community outreach programs and devote the funding to Covid-19 resources instead.

"Crazy is a word that gets thrown around- we are very busy... We have increased the number of staff and where we used to administer ten different programs we’re only doing three or four of them at the moment, because Covid has taken over everything," said Fiumara.

He also says many of the staff are now working as contact tracers, but even with 34 people working non-stop it's been challenging to inform everyone who has been exposed to the virus.

 

"We have more cases and more contacts than we have the ability to connect with in a fashion that is quick enough to help limit the spread," Fiumara told NBC Right Now.

 

However, contact tracers are finding that the spread of the virus is happening in work places. 

 

"Looking at about 1,000 of our cases..... with 46 percent have responded having gone to work with symptoms. We really have to be very vigilant, that if something seems off at all take a day home, make sure it's not Covid before you go in (to work)," he said.

 

The health director wants people to know, in order to flatten the curve, it's important to stay home if you are sick- no matter how small your symptoms may seem.

"In some cases it's as minor as loss sense of taste, or scratchy throat, or a running nose.. And they continue to go to work thinking its something else. Then a few days (later) the virus progresses and it gets worse. We end up with a whole bunch of contacts from who they were working with," Fiumara said.

 

Umatilla health leaders are also calling on local businesses to develop flexible policies and support sick employees.

 

The county has also set up a COVID-19 hotline, where residents can call with any COVID-19 questions they may have. If you are a resident of Umatilla County, dial 2-1-1 to be connected.

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