11 new cases over Thanksgiving; county has active community spread
December 3, 2020
According to the Washington Department of Health website, there were 35 confirmed cases of covid-19 in Wahkiakum County as of Tuesday. The website is not reporting the number of tests conducted at this time.
Pacific County has reported 446 cases so far, with 91 considered active, adding 51 new cases on Monday. There have been 1,572 positive cases in Cowlitz County with 775 considered active. Across the river, Columbia County has had 462 cases, with 69 still infectious, and there have been 390 confirmed cases in Clatsop County, with 88 considered active.
Eleven Wahkiakum County residents learned that they had tested positive for covid-19 over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend. Another positive test was reported on Tuesday. That person was in self-quarantine and symptomatic, but had no connection to either the school district or the St. James Family Center.
“There are more coming,” Wahkiakum Health and Human Services Director Chris Bischoff said on Monday. “Real time gets more difficult when the numbers increase. We will try to keep everybody updated within a day or two.”
A few of the new cases from the holiday weekend have “some, but limited, connection” to the school district.
“[Superintendent] Brent Freeman needs a statue built to him after this is all over,” Bischoff said. “The man has done incredible work to do everything he can for the school system in Wahkiakum.”
Bischoff praised Freeman for holding the only in school graduation in the state last year, and for being the biggest public school in the state to go back to in person learning.
Bischoff acknowledged that during the recent uptick, there were a couple covid-19 cases associated with the school, but pointed out that it was contained, thanks to Freeman and his team’s deliberate decisions to create small cohorts. The cohorts, as well as the district’s insistence on mask wearing, hand washing, and other practices to protect students, have so far halted the spread of the virus, and allowed the school to remain open.
Unfortunately, he said, there were some members of the community who were not taking covid-19 seriously, exposing the kids, and putting the whole system in jeopardy.
“I get that people are nervous and want to pull their kids out and do at home education,” Bischoff said. “That’s a valid choice, but there is a lot of heat thrown at Wahkiakum because we are still open and all the schools around us aren’t. When we feel like it is unsafe, we will pull the kids out. We are watching it closely, and trying to keep it as good for students as it can be for as long as we can.”
Bischoff expressed frustration with people who had tested positive for covid-19 and were argumentative, grumpy, and unwilling to be candid with Danelle Barlow, the public health nurse who was handling contact tracing, a necessary tool to protect the community.
“Please cooperate with Danelle if she contacts you to do an investigation,” Bischoff said. “The info you are giving is confidential. It won’t be shared. When we call your contacts we will not indicate who you are, or where they came in contact with covid-19.”
“We are having people give us the information they want to and not the rest of it,” Bischoff said. “I don’t care if it’s embarrassing. It’s inappropriate, unethical, dumb, and uncaring. It makes you a bad person.”
“You are going to tell one person,” he continued. “It’s not getting shared. Those 11 case counts that came in? I don’t know any of their names. I don’t want to know. I’m doing everything I can to protect people from information they don’t need to have.”
“It’s your patriotic duty,” Bischoff said. “It’s your duty as a human.”
Active community spread
“We have multiple non household spread events in Wahkiakum County, Bischoff said. “Community spread is active. To this point, we had largely dodged that. The only person to person spread we’d had was between significant others. We are now beyond that. We now have all kinds of folks spreading it to other folks. In Wahkiakum that is dangerous.”
He mentioned the notion of six degrees of separation.
“In Wahkiakum, it’s about a half of degree of separation until you are connected to somebody else,” he added. “That’s awesome in that it creates a strong community; it’s not awesome in that it gives us an opportunity to spread covid-19 very quickly.”
“If you were being very careful before, please continue that. If you were being somewhat careful before, please become very careful. We need everybody to take this a little more seriously than they have,” Bischoff said.
“It’s 100 percent here in Wahkiakum, and touching everything,” he said. “Now is the time to buckle down. It’s getting pretty real.”
Concern about growing numbers
“Systems are pretty stressed at this point, and some have already broken, some are on breaking edge,” Bischoff said. “And with two back to back holidays in December, fed by a massive Thanksgiving peak, we could really be looking at some very bad times in the US, as far as systemic collapse of our hospital and medical systems.”
“The vaccine is coming,” he added, “but not enough doses to do anything about what is going to happen. The Thanksgiving bump is already done, and there isn’t likely to be a lot of change at Christmas and New Year’s without people drastically reducing activity levels.”
Risk factors and the roll out of vaccines
The first doses of the new vaccines will be first administered to hospital staff, because, Bischoff said, “we are running out of doctors and nurses and support staff very quickly.” Long term care facility staff are expected to be immunized as well.
After that, the focus will likely turn to other systems that society cannot afford to see collapse, like the emergency response community.
“Once you move through that sort of hierarchy, you start to address the general public,” Bischoff said, and he expects that people with the highest risk will be addressed first. There are underlying risk factors, like heart disease, pulmonary issues, and obesity, combined with age, that will be considered.
“Exactly how this is going to come down, I haven’t heard,” he added.