The Wahkiakum County Eagle - Established as The Skamokawa Eagle in 1891

Covid-19 update

County has 16th case; "We are accelerating quickly"


November 19, 2020

Four more cases of covid-19 were confirmed in Wahkiakum County residents for a total of 16 as of Tuesday. There have been 748 tests conducted in the county so far.

Pacific County added 26 new cases on Tuesday for a total of 191. Of those, 61 are considered active. There have been 1,124 positive cases in Cowlitz County, with 368 still active. Across the river in Clatsop County they are reporting 309 cases, with 43 remaining active, and in Columbia County they are up to 334 with 30 still infectious.

“It’s not looking good, and looking much worse,” Wahkiakum Health and Human Services Director Chris Bischoff said. “We’re headed in the wrong direction.”

When Bischoff gave his update at the beginning of the week, Washington had over 130,000 cases, and Oregon was reporting just under 57,000. He noted that while July had been the worst month in Washington with over 800 new cases per day, that number was doubled during the first two weeks of November. The average number of new cases per day was 1,552 for the last 14 days, and 1,816 for the last seven. The number has not dropped below 2,000 for the last four days.

“We are accelerating quickly,” Bischoff said.

Bischoff attributes the rise to Halloween festivities and worries that Thanksgiving might become a super spreader event.

On Monday, a 13th person in Wahkiakum tested positive, and on Tuesday, three more cases were confirmed. All four residents are symptomatic and in self quarantine. Three cases are connected to the Naselle School District. One case is connected to Wahkiakum School District, with no known ties to St. James childcare.

WHHS is working to identify anyone who may have an exposure risk because of contact with the individuals, and Pacific County is working with the Naselle School District to coordinate their covid-19 response, a press release from WHHS said.

First order contacts vs. secondary

“If I have covid-19, and I got tested yesterday and miraculously got the results back today, it’s likely that anyone I’ve come in contact with in the last 14 days directly, within 10 feet for 10-15 minutes is a first order contact, even with masks,” Bischoff explained as an example.

Anyone that falls into that category will be contacted and tested. However, any members of the first order contact’s circle, be they friends, family, or co-workers, fall into a secondary category.

“From an investigative standpoint, if you try to go out one ring from that primary contact, the numbers become staggering,” Bischoff said. “The folks in that secondary ring can choose to self quarantine or isolate, and that’s not a bad idea. But that’s not the way we are treating it. We don’t have the resources to investigate out that far. So first order contacts would get tested. If they come back positive, the people they came in contact with become first order contacts and they will be tested and need to quarantine and isolate.”


Governor Jay Inslee has instituted new restrictions for the next four weeks because of a significant increase in hospitalizations per day, Bischoff said, in an effort to avoid overwhelming hospital systems.

“We are seeing hospital systems failing across the US and the world,” Bischoff said. “We mainly saw that happening in the first wave, and a little bit in the second wave, but it’s happening much more rapidly now. This curve is accelerating much faster, the numbers are much larger.”

Some hospitals are maxed out, he said, with gurneys in hallways, and rented refrigerated trailers in their parking lots to hold the corpses of the folks that don’t make it.

The medical community is getting better at treating covid-19, and more people are surviving, but with the rising number of people getting sick and needing hospitalization, this means that hospitals are struggling to find the room and the staff to handle all the normal emergencies that bring people to the hospital, like cardiac events, accidents, etc.

Summarizing the new restrictions, schools

“Inslee did not touch schools or day cares on purpose,” Bischoff said.

When looking at data from around the world and considering countries that are having similar experiences as the U.S., they’ve found that if a school institutes masking, social distancing, and a pod system, they are seeing low instances of covid-19 transmission.

Wahkiakum School District is practicing all three--masks, social distancing, and co-horts.

“We know kids from birth to 18 are capable of getting covid-19 and transmitting it, we know they do that at a slightly lower level than adults, and that the repercussions are lower,” Bischoff said. “Our biggest concerns were that the school would serve as a reservoir for the rest of the community. What we are seeing is that if you put in some restrictions, that there is very little transmission out of schools at that point.”

“If you don’t, it’s the opposite,” he added, “the school serves as a reservoir and increases the case load in the community.”

Social gatherings

While outdoor social gatherings have been limited to five people outside your household, people from outside your household are prohibited from indoor social gatherings, Bischoff said.

“In other words, it is illegal to have Thanksgiving dinner indoors with people who don’t live with you,” Bischoff said. “What does that mean? Please go watch the Governor’s press conference. Nobody is going to be knocking on your door, yanking people out of your house, or issuing citations. Please stop with that. That is not what is happening.

“What the governor is doing is preparing a way to make it very clear for you: this is a bad idea,” Bischoff said. “The governor is giving you a lifeline. If you normally go and you are uncomfortable going, say the governor said I can’t, so I’m not.”

Restrictions on restaurants, bars, gyms, retail

Restaurants and bars are closed for indoor service, but can continue to do outdoor service, curbside, delivery, or whatever else they do, Bischoff said.

Gyms are closed. Outdoor exercise groups are still okay with five or less people.

There was a decision to limit visits to 25 percent capacity across the board for in store retail.

Restrictions on religious services, singing

Religious services are to be limited to a 25 percent capacity as well, with no singing, unless it’s a solo performer.

“What they’ve found is that singing is the best way to spread covid-19,” Bischoff said. “If you are singing, you are inhaling and exhaling a lot. You are doing so forcefully. You need one person with covid-19 in a room of 25 or 30 people, and 20 people are going to leave with covid-19.”

Recorded music, a piano, or a soloist is fine, but a choir is a bad idea.

Travel advisory

Washington, Oregon, and California have issued a travel advisory, Bischoff said, encouraging anyone crossing state lines to quarantine for 14 days.

“If you are traveling to see family, or family is traveling to see you, then all of you in that house need to quarantine for 14 days, or you need to stick that person out in the chicken coop for 14 days and not talk to them,” Bischoff said.

He added that while some private entities might enforce the advisory, the government won’t.

Bischoff also noted that the advisory does not apply to situations that take Wahkiakum residents to Astoria, for instance.

Herd immunity vs. vaccines

“We are a long way away from herd immunity. See Sweden. They were arguing they had it and they are outbroken again,” Bischoff said. “Our best bet is still going to be the vaccines.”

He noted that the Pfizer vaccine might be shipped out as early as December, adding that Pfizer claimed the vaccine was 90 percent effective, which means that it won’t work for 10 percent of the population.

“I do believe at some point we will have five or six vaccines on the market, which is awesome,” Bischoff said, “Having multiple options to take care of this is going to be our best bet.”

“They are coming,” he said of vaccines, “much faster than herd immunity, and at a much lower cost to humanity.”


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