Wahkiakum case load is steady; long term health effects discussed
August 6, 2020
The number of confirmed cases of covid-19 in Wahkiakum County remained at five as of Tuesday night, with 371 tests having been conducted so far. Cowlitz County is reporting 457 cases with 244 considered active. Pacific County is up to 44 positive cases, 15 active. Across the river in Columbia County, there have been 84 confirmed cases, 11 of which are active, and in Clatsop County they have 81 positive cases, with 16 still active.
Health and Human Services Director Chris Bischoff said in his update on Monday that he and his staff have been working closely with Superintendent Brent Freeman at Wahkiakum School District to try to bring kids back to school.
As for students in the Westend who attend school in Naselle, Bischoff said that the Pacific County Health Department had taken the lead, but he was in consultation, and paying attention to what they were doing there.
Bischoff encouraged people displaying symptoms to get tested, in general, and as a protective measure for students who may be returning to school at the end of August.
“As we look towards the potential of trying to get some kids back to school we’d like to make sure we don’t have a covid-19 population already in our population,” he said, “because if we do, going back to school is going to immediately expose that in the worst way possible, and I for one would prefer not to use our kids as guinea pigs in that effort.”
The risk to children
“There is one good study out now that looked at 10-19 year olds, as far as how likely they are to get the disease, and importantly, how likely they are to pass the disease,” Bischoff said. “What they’ve found in that age group, for certain, is that they are pretty much as likely to get and pass the disease as folks moving up the age range.
“Children aged 0-9 are not as well studied. I think what we are seeing as far as the ability to get it, is that the ability to get it is still there.”
"So if you hear someone say there is no danger to kids, that is just patently untrue, and the data shows that,” Bischoff said.
In Florida, their most recent outbreak began in the younger age ranges, and as it increased in intensity, covid-19 moved up into the more at-risk categories, according to Bischoff.
“That is something we call burden of disease,” Bischoff said, “or population disease burden.”
“The same sort of thing is starting to happen here, where you had the outbreak really start in what we’ll call the bullet-proof age group, and has begun to spread upwards as the case counts have gone up,” he added.
“I know a lot of people up here are taking this more seriously, and are trying to guard themselves, but when you increase the overall number of people in the population who have the disease you just increase the probability of these people being able to pick it up.”
Possible long term effects of covid-19
Other coronaviruses like SARS and MERS have been shown to have pretty significant long term effects, Bischoff said, some of which may be life long. Covid-19 has only been around for seven to nine months, and so it’s too early to be certain of those long term effects, but scientists are finding that survivors are experiencing some life altering issues at an increased rate.
Some survivors are experiencing significant lung damage.
“One of the issues can be popcorn lung, which is holes in the lung,” Bischoff said. “Folks are having blood clots, or having to have parts of their lungs removed. Once you remove part of a lung, or have popcorning, that capacity is probably never coming back. Maybe some respiratory therapy may be able to increase that, but it may never return.”
“We know that we are seeing people who are having even just moderate cases of this just persist in shortness of breath for months afterwards, he added. “Most are able to recover their pre-covid-19 lung capacity but it may take two to three months or more.”
Heart problems were unexpected, but some survivors are turning up with cardiomyopathy, arrhythmia, and heart attacks.
“Cardiomyopathy is the thickening or scarring of the heart, making it harder for it to pump blood,” Bischoff said. “When that happens there isn’t much going back from that.”
Survivors are also experiencing kidney failure, or having significant kidney impacts. There is an increased incidence of strokes. And it can affect the central nervous system as well. Some people are getting encephalopathy and there has been an increase in children showing up with a Kawasaki-like syndrome.
Bischoff also noted that there seems to be some preliminary evidence of increased rates of depression and other mental health issues directly related to having the disease.
“There is so much emphasis on death,” Bischoff said, “but I think it is important to remember the societal impact. It’s also the folks who survive and will not be able to resume their normal lifestyle, and that is not just people over the age of 60. We’re having people in the younger age range who are being impacted, their life will be affected by contracting this disease.”
“I don’t know anyone who is enjoying this thing,” he said. “Everyone I’ve met is stressed by this, it has caused them anxiety, regardless of their personal feelings about masks and other things. Let's be kind, persevere, and stick together.”