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Oregonians Lack Key Tool to Fight COVID-19

January 7th, 2022 by dk

Sometimes it’s difficult to notice something you don’t have. You never had it before, so what’s the difference? You begin to want it only after you see others who have it. That’s not always envy, though it usually is. We sometimes simply lack awareness. I wouldn’t bother bringing this up except that increased awareness here might save lives.

Oregon is one of only 13 states that still hasn’t activated coronavirus exposure notifications for our smart phones.

Governor Kate Brown posted on her social media accounts this week that the omicron variant has begun its march through our population. The post includes a graph beneath an encouragement to get vaccinated. “We all can do our part to save lives, support our health care workers, and keep our families safe.” But is the state doing its part to save lives? It doesn’t look like it.

Contact tracing is the third leg of the COVID-19 prevention stool. If everyone could be immunized at the snap of a finger (by surviving an infection or by getting vaccinated), the virus would stop spreading immediately. It would die quickly without any human hosts. That’s herd immunity and it has served our species well for millennia.

We’ve failed to stop the virus but we can slow its spread by masking and social distancing, and quarantining when necessary. We do these things to lessen the chance of spreading the virus. They won’t eliminate those chances entirely. Those who harbor the virus don’t immediately show symptoms, so transmissions often happen invisibly.

Contact tracing can make the invisible visible.

Smart phone apps can help when all our precautions have failed. The software operates in much the same way as the virus. While our bodies are exchanging air that may contain droplets carrying the virus, our phones can invisibly exchange encrypted contact information by a short-distance bluetooth signal.

Then if somebody gets sick with the virus, the software can anonymously inform those who were recently proximate. Our phones can then tell us we might be infected before we exhibit any symptoms. Asymptomatic covid carriers can then act to prevent the spread.

But only if the software is downloaded onto Android phones and activated on iPhones. That responsibility has been left to the states, and Oregon is lagging behind.

Thirty-seven states from Alabama to Wyoming have made the technology available to protect its citizens. Washington and California have done it. So has Switzerland, the United Kingdom, and many Asian nations. The benefits have been verified around the world. Why are Oregonians denied them?

Senior advisors for the Oregon Health Authority announced last January that they hoped the software would be completed and implemented by April of last year. From my research, the topic has rarely been raised in the past nine months. Wyoming can equip its citizens with this extra layer of protection, but Oregon can’t?

I called the Oregon Health Authority, requesting an update on the effort. No one was available to return my call. Take their slow response in this life-or-death context however you think is fair, but notice it.


Don Kahle ( writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and archives past columns at

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  • 1 Dean Kaufman Jan 7, 2022 at 4:18 pm

    Why are you surprised, after the Oregon Health Plan “roll-out”, the unemployment benefits fiasco, ad nauseum, that Wyoming, that deep red state full of redneck cowboys, might accomplish what progressive Oregon hasn’t been able to accomplish?