Health director reports covid-19 developments
April 30, 2020
As of Tuesday night in Wahkiakum County, the number of positive cases of covid-19 remained unchanged at two, with the first person testing positive on April 3 and the second testing positive on April 4. So far, 50 residents have been tested for covid-19.
In Pacific County, four people have tested positive for covid-19. Across the river in Clatsop County, there have been six positive cases, and in Columbia County, there are 14. In neighboring Cowlitz County, they stand at 39, while in Clark County, their numbers continue to rise daily reaching 313 positive cases on Tuesday, including 18 deaths.
Chris Bischoff, the Director for Wahkiakum Health and Human Services has been providing updates for department heads three times a week. This week he spoke about several issues including household pets, food processing plants, safe food handling procedures, and took some time to advise against ingesting cleaning products.
According to Bischoff, two cats in New York state were confirmed to have covid-19. They not only had the virus in their nostrils, they were symptomatic, he said.
A dog in Hong Kong tested positive, and it was confirmed that four tigers and three lions at the Bronx Zoo had the disease—meaning like the aforementioned cats, they not only tested positive, they were symptomatic.
“That brings up questions about whether this is spreading from pets to humans, and humans to pets,” Bischoff said. “There is very little likelihood that pets are infecting people, it’s more likely that people are infecting their pets.”
Bischoff reported what the CDC is advising:
“There is no evidence that pets play a role in spreading the virus in the United States. Therefore there is no justification in taking measures against companion animals that may compromise their welfare,” Bischoff said. “Treat your pets well.”
“The CDC recommends that you don’t let pets interact with people outside your family. Keep your cats indoors when possible. If you are going to walk your dog on a leash, try to keep six feet away from other people and animals. Avoid dog parks and public places where a lot of people and dogs gather.”
Also, he noted, it has been suggested that anyone who tests positive for covid-19 should find someone else to take care of their pets for the time being.
“This is novel, this is new,” Bischoff said. “We are learning. So what we say, what the CDC says today, may change as more evidence comes in, so caution!”
Talk turned to the Foster Farms chicken processing plant in Kelso where nine people have tested positive for covid-19.
“They do a pretty high volume of chicken,” Bischoff said. “If you buy Foster Farms chicken or many of the local grocery store generic chickens you are buying from that Kelso plant.”
Bischoff said that last week, the Cowlitz County Health Department had tested 70-100 employees at Foster Farms. As of Friday, they were still awaiting the results.
Bischoff became curious about food processing plants after learning about the situation in Kelso, and began to do more research.
In Walla Walla, he said, the Tyson beef packing plant had 100 covid-19 cases. Everyone that had been tested was symptomatic.
“They have now shut that plant down to test all 1400 employees,” Bischoff said. “The Tyson plant is capable of producing enough beef to feed 4 million people a day.”
According to his research, there are now 12 meat packing plants and three food processing plants across the US that have shut down due to covid-19. There have been 17 fatalities from covid-19 in these sort of plants, and lots of positive tests.
“Foster Farms so far isn’t shut down. All those people that were tested are still working to my knowledge,” Bischoff said. “We need these things to stay open now. They are essential, but the more risk you put on society, the more likely you end up with places like this having to close down.”
“The people staying home from construction jobs and other jobs, thinking I can easily socially distance, why can’t I just go out? The more people we put out there working, the bigger danger there is of the disease continuing to move and hitting places like this that we need to stay open, where it’s hard to avoid that close contact with each other,” Bischoff said.
As for whether the meat coming from any of these facilities is safe, Bischoff advises to continue to use safe food handling practices.
“Wash your hands and any utensils or cutting boards, etc., immediately after handling raw meat,” he said. “Cooking your chicken or steak or pot roast or pork to appropriate temperatures is going to kill off the virus very quickly. All the virus would be on the surface of those, so normal cooking to get them done is easily going to wipe that virus out.”
Bischoff has more concerns with ground meat, and suggests cooking to the point where there is no pink left.
He admits that there is not a zero risk, but he believes the risk is low.
“These are standards you should be using anyway,” Bischoff said.
He also tackled an issue that had been much in the news lately.
“Don’t drink bleach or inhale it,” Bischoff said. “You can’t cure yourself of covid-19 by walking out in the sun. Sanitizers are extremely poisonous. I would not share this normally, but multiple states have reported increased calls to their poison control center in the last few days. I know we’ve heard from people locally who buy into gargling bleach ideas or taking a bath in bleach. No. That’s extremely toxic and will destroy as many things that you need as you don’t need.”
“You begin to damage things. If you inhale a bleach mist you will burn and scar the cells in your epithelial lining, which is in your lungs, making them less resistant to invasion. You may make yourself more prone to serious infections, deaths, by doing that,” Bischoff said. “Sanitizers, bleach, UV, they’re great for keeping your surfaces clean, which means less chance of getting covid-19 or any other disease that way, but they are not intended for your body.”