Providence Health executive Dave Underriner, Tri-County Health Officer Paul Lewis, and State Health Officer Katrina Hedberg at a press conference this afternoon
  • Dirk VanderHart
  • Providence Health executive Dave Underriner, Tri-County Health Officer Paul Lewis, and State Health Officer Katrina Hedberg at a press conference this afternoon

A mystery woman—HIPAA says you can know nothing about her—was recently in either Liberia, Sierra Leone, or Guinea. This woman came to Portland at some non-publicly-disclosable point, and whether she lives here or is visiting no one's saying. She's been in constant contact with county health officials, reporting her symptom-free status twice daily even as she traveled about freely.

Then this morning, the woman's temperature shot above 102 degrees. And it stayed there. She's been in a locked area of Providence Milwaukie Hospital since about 1:30 this afternoon, and there is some concern that Portland may have the country's latest case of Ebola.

This is the scenario state and local health officials just laid out in a bland conference room in the state office building on NE Oregon. The important thing? There's no reason to believe anyone else has the Ebola virus, if this woman does. You need to have symptoms to spread the disease, and she didn't until this morning.

Even that line of thinking is still preliminary: the cause of the woman's fever is very much in question, and she had no known contact with the afflicted while in Africa. She was living with people in Portland, the officials said, and those people have voluntarily quarantined themselves in their home.

"We think the system worked almost flawlessly," Dr. Paul Lewis, the tri-county health officer, told reporters, while batting aside questions about the woman's activities, travels, living situation, and age. "There is no risk to the public."

So complete was Lewis' reluctance to give detailed answers that it's not even clear when we might know whether the woman has Ebola. The blood has to be packaged—carefully—and sent to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, the final arbiter in these matters. It also might be sent to another, nearer lab, which can give a preliminary assessment. And multiple tests are required in order to guarantee a person doesn't have the Ebola virus, so that might take time.

Also at the conference was Dave Underriner, a regional executive with Providence Health Services. He says Providence Milwaukie has serendipitously been training for something like this, and that the hospital has the proper equipment and something like 150 staffers ready to handle the virus.

Bottom line: Even if Ebola has been among us, Portland's top health officials say its under control. You have no reason to worry. Happy Halloween.

Update, 5:06 pm: The Oregonian, citing an unnamed source, reports the woman is from Liberia, and is just visiting Portland.