Wahkiakum case load is steady, vaccine development discussed
August 13, 2020
As of Tuesday, Wahkiakum County’s number of positive cases of covid-19 remains at five. Pacific County’s number has risen to 51, and the number of confirmed cases has reached 501 in Cowlitz County, with 241 considered active. Five have died, and one person is currently hospitalized in the county.
Across the river in Columbia County, they have had a total of 103 cases, with 17 currently considered infectious. There have been 88 cases in Clatsop, 22 of which are active.
Coronavirus vaccine tracker:
According to a coronavirus vaccine tracker, there are currently 135 vaccines that are preclinical, which means, according to Wahkiakum Health and Human Services Director Chris Bischoff, that they haven’t started injecting humans with them yet. Perhaps the potential vaccine didn’t kill the virus in a petri dish, or mice and rats got sick or died when it was tested on them. In those cases, they never leave the preclinical stage.
There are 19 vaccines in Phase 1, where they begin very limited testing on humans, Bischoff said. Eleven vaccines have made it to Phase 2, where they might test a potential vaccine on around 100 people. They are monitored to see if it’s working, how well it’s working, and if there are any side effects. Eight vaccines have moved into Phase 3, where they test on a larger scale, like 10,000 people.
“One of the reasons you go so big,” Bischoff said, “say there has been a side effect that has a 0.1 percent chance of showing up. It’s unlikely you will see it when you test 100 people, but in a group of 10,000, you are likely to see it. Most of the time Phase 3 does a good job of finding those things.”
The whole process, which not only looks for cures, but can find treatments that help, is moving faster than usual.
“I can tell you as somebody who has looked at the history of drug development, going too fast is problematic, and causes people to die when they don’t need to,” Bischoff said. “It’s concerning, but I think that generally, they are trying to follow good protocols for that and it will be safe when it comes out.
One vaccine has been approved, Bischoff said, but it was because the military in China skipped all the steps and moved it to approved. Saudi Arabia has since decided to take it through Phase 2 and 3 clinical trials.
“Why do you need a new flu vaccine every year?” Bischoff asked. “It’s not necessarily because the last one isn’t working anymore, it’s more often because there is a new variant of the flu that requires a new vaccine. We give you the flu shot in the United States based on the flu season in the southern hemisphere and then if you are down there, you get a flu shot based on the flu season we had up here.”
The concern is that the longer a virus like covid-19 is able to affect a large population, the more likely it is to mutate into multiple variations, which could have long term implications.
“When we get testy with people who aren’t taking this seriously and won’t help us stamp this out, this is one of those things,” Bischoff said. “You are making decisions now, for generations of humans to come. If we can get covid-19 under control quick enough, then maybe it’s a one vaccine and you’re done, and we just don’t have covid-19 anymore. Or we allow it to become like the flu, and have a flu vaccine every year from the time you are two until you are no longer living.”
Still, he is hopeful.
“There is good news, things are coming,” Bischoff said. “That eight vaccines have already passed into Phase 3 is a good sign. I believe that there are a couple of those that are on schedule. If Phase 3 goes well, they could be ready by the end of the year. Certainly you’ve seen a lot of political maneuvering in the US and other countries. Bill Gates, other very wealthy folks, are trying to invest in a system that will be able to produce these on a large scale and be ready to go as soon as we have something. There is a decent chance that we will be asking people to get poked in the arm in December or early January. That is our hope.”
“I would love to get back to normal,” he added. “I would like for this not to be what I think about every day.”
Wahkiakum Health and Human Services has been working closely with Wahkiakum School District Superintendent Brent Freeman for months, as they prepare for the new school year.
“I’ve been talking to Brent on average, six or seven times a week,” Bischoff said.
Beau Renfro, Wahkiakum’s Emergency Manager, has been helping them find ways to help the school get ready as well.
“They’ve been getting some extra preparedness money, but it’s nowhere near what they need,” Bischoff said. “With commissioners help, we’ve been diverting some money towards the school to help with that. We’ve increased the hand washing there. Through a grant that Brent got, he was able to get some infrared temperature thermometers, that make it fast to screen kids. It takes a picture of their face and decides whether they are hot or not.”
A nightmare for Bischoff would be if the school district returned to normal operation, and the contact tracing that would need to be done if one of the students tested positive for covid-19.
In order to avoid some of that, they’ve decided to move the students into cohorts, so that if someone falls ill, a smaller group would be quarantined instead of shutting down the whole school.
“We don’t want kids to get sick, we also don’t want kids to make other people sick. How do we limit children’s exposure to the disease? How do we find out what that exposure was once someone gets positive and keep it from spreading any more?” Bischoff said. “I think we have a good plan, on both sides.”
“I’m not a big fan of using kids as a testing spot, let’s throw them in and see how it goes,” Bischoff said. “If you are, I suggest you start looking at some of those news articles and see how well that’s gone for schools that have done that. The answer to that is not well.”
“Certainly we want to reopen school, we want it to stay open,” he added. “The only way school stays open is if the parents, family members, and everyone else around those kids take this seriously and when they leave to go to work, go shopping, whatever you’re doing on the weekends, they take it seriously then as well, and don’t bring it back and give it to one of their kids. That’s my call for some social responsibility on that. Whether you think this is important or not, it really doesn’t matter. I’m hoping you don’t want to be that person who gets the school shut down again. Let’s all try not to be that person who gets the school shut down.”
“We need everybody in the community to join us in this effort,” Bischoff said. “Wahkiakum has dodged a bullet as far as community spread. One of the biggest reasons that I can put my finger on for that, because if you walk around town we’re not great at wearing masks. We’re not great at social distancing, we’ve had our events and things. I think what has kept us well below others, is we don’t have many congregant opportunities. So many of our church groups have done a great job of social distancing and wearing masks. That is one of the places we would look for spread to go. Long term care facilities, don’t have any. Hospitals, don’t have any. Assisted living, don’t really have any. So the one place you would look where you would congregate a lot of people together and mix them is school. That’s really the scary part for me.”
“We want to move forward, we want to try to do this in a safe way, but this could be the thing that makes Wahkiakum not a five case county, but a 50 or 100 or 200 case county,” he continued. “We don’t want to do that. I don’t want to do that. None of you want to do that. What we need is the community to pitch in and keep this from happening.”