County's application to move to Phase 2 is successful; another local case reported
May 14, 2020
As of Tuesday night, four people had tested positive for covid-19 in Wahkiakum County, according to the Washington State Department of Health website. Sixty-five people have been tested. Pacific County had nine positive cases and one death reported. Cowlitz County has 66 reported cases.
Across the river, Clatsop County reported 33 cases, while Columbia County was at 15.
On Monday, Chris Bischoff, the Director of Wahkiakum Health and Human Services, said he had recently spoken with the Secretary of Health for the State of Washington. The secretary would be determining whether Wahkiakum County would be approved for the variance they had applied for on Friday, in hopes of moving into Phase 2 of the state’s reopening guidelines. Bischoff said that he had informed the Secretary that Wahkiakum could end up with five positive cases, with two pending cases related to the person who tested positive last week.
“He did not have an issue with that,” Bischoff said. “I expect that today we will receive a letter and an announcement that we are joining the other five counties that have already received a variance.”
The number of positive cases is now four, not five, and the county did receive approval to move to Phase 2 later that day. However, businesses cannot reopen until guidance is out. Bischoff was hopeful that that the guidance would be available by midweek.
Phase 2 allowances include:
• Restaurants can open for indoor seating, but at a lower capacity.
• Retail can do in-store sales, though shops are still advised to continue with curbside pickup where possible.
• Realtors can show houses and have open houses, but must use precautions.
• Professional services (not governmental services) like behavioral health clinics and accountants, etc. can return to work.
• Hair and nail salons.
• New construction.
• In home domestic services like housekeeping, dog walking, landscaping
However, to reiterate, none of those things can begin until guidance has been provided.
Phase 1 allows for drive in style church services, as well as hunting, fishing, golfing, boating, and hiking—so long as it is households only. In Phase 2, those activities can be done with up to five non-household people per week.
After talking to the Secretary of Health, Bischoff is hopeful there could be a faster shift into Phase 3, so long as we don’t have more of an outbreak.
“It’s no less than three weeks,” he said. “The next phase should be easier so long as we don’t have cases. It’s up to everybody here to make sure we aren’t spreading the disease.”
Hospitalizations and new cases
According to Washington State’s Department of Health page, there was a downward trend in hospitalizations, Bischoff said.
Bischoff noted that his daughter worked in a long term care facility where they are still reusing paper masks for a day, two days, even a week.
“That really doesn’t work in an infection protocol,” Bischoff said. “In an infection protocol, they should be changing their PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) between each patient. That is part of why when people see this downward trend in hospitalizations they assume that we are ready for another wave to come. We are not ready. We need a few more weeks. We need a few more weeks for PPE to catch up. It is catching up, we are getting shipments. Wahkiakum is getting PPE in. We have enough for our needs locally, but we don’t have a hospital either. We need to keep the disease under control for a few more weeks so we can get caught up on our PPE needs.”
While hospitalizations are on a downward trend, there is a slight uptick in new cases in Washington State over the last 14 days. And with warmer weather on the way, there is concern that people won’t be practicing precautions.
“It’s really up to us what we do,” Bischoff said. “If we make the choices to wear masks when we leave the house, to keep our social distancing as much as we can, to wash our hands, do all those NPIs (non-pharmaceutical interventions), we can help hold these cases down, we can keep moving forward or we can choose to behave like jerks and keep spreading the disease around. So those are our choices.”
Every county around us in a ring has a case from the Bornstein fish packing plant outbreak, according to Bischoff.
“We dodged a bullet,” Bischoff said.
The plant has been temporarily closed, all employees have been tested, and contact tracing is going out, Bischoff reported.
“I believe they have gotten all their tests back,” he said. “If we don’t have any, we shouldn’t have any. We may end up with a close contact, but I don’t know if that is going to be true either.”
“When you end up with these plants, where they have to work shoulder to shoulder, in such close proximity, they can quickly spread the virus and have to close the plant down for a while. That’s one of the reasons it’s hard to find meat in the supermarket and probably going to have an impact on our fish too,” Bischoff said.
Bischoff also spoke about Alaska and how the state is struggling to deal with the influx of people coming in to fish in the near future, while keeping their citizens safe.
More testing available
There are more tests available in the county, and Bischoff is asking residents if they have any of the following symptoms or know someone who does, to call the screening number, 360-849-4041, to be tested.
• Cough, or
• Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing.
Or at least two of the following:
• Repeated shaking with chills,
• Muscle pain,
• Sore throat, and
• New loss of taste or smell
“We need to find outbreaks and stamp them out,” Bischoff said. “If you know anybody or are experiencing symptoms, we need to get those tests moving as fast as we can.”
Bischoff said that he’d heard more than once that locally, about one in six people are wearing masks, and some of them aren’t wearing them correctly.
“We can take it seriously, and keep this slowed down and keep slowing it down, and be able to go back to somewhat normal for a while,” he said, “or we can not take it seriously and we can end up with a massive second wave and right back into a shut down. It’s up to us. We need to take it seriously.”