County case count now 64; local vaccinations underway
January 14, 2021
As of Tuesday, the number of confirmed cases of covid-19 in Wahkiakum County had risen to 64, with 12 considered active.
Three had been hospitalized, and 1,110 tests had been conducted so far, according to the Washington Department of Health.
Pacific County was reporting a total of 616 cases, with 22 considered active, and seven deaths attributed to covid-19. The total number of cases in Cowlitz County had risen to 3,043, with 319 considered active, and 29 deaths reported.
Across the river, Clatsop County had a total of 657 positive cases and four deaths, and Columbia County was reporting 976 total cases and 17 deaths.
“Several states are now badly overwhelming their hospitals,” Wahkiakum Health and Human Services Director Chris Bischoff said on Monday, later turning his focus to hospitalization in Washington State. “We had started to head down in hospitalizations, but we can see that is headed right back up again. For December, we averaged 127 new hospitalizations per day. Our highest month before that was 77. Our low in September was 28 per day.”
At one point during an earlier peak of the pandemic, there were about 60,000 people in the hospital for covid-19, nationwide, he said. There are currently 130,000 people, more than twice as many as the worst numbers during the first two peaks.
Bischoff said that new cases, deaths, and hospitalizations are all headed up pretty strongly for the past 14 days.
“We started seeing a climb after Christmas, and we’re up here, maybe peaking now, but my guess is that we have at least another week before we actually hit the peak for New Years,” he said of new cases. “That’s probably likely to continue to increase for another week.”
As of last Friday, WHHS had administered 255 doses of the Moderna vaccine. They have 260 doses on hand, and those have been scheduled. They are awaiting another 100 doses, and will begin scheduling those this week.
He expects that the 260 doses that are already scheduled will all have been administered by January 21.
“We’ve been getting about 100 doses per week,” Bischoff said. “I’m very reluctant because the supply chain isn’t as consistent as we would hope it is. The state is struggling. They have been very consistent with us, which we are very grateful for, but not as much with everybody else. I’m afraid that might affect us at this point, so I’m not going to schedule anybody for a vaccination that I don’t know I have the dose for.”
“It took us a minute to get through the 1a’s,” he stated.
Category 1a includes any high risk medical personnel. Locally it is Emergency Medical Services, ambulance crew, and other closely related first responders, home health care workers, Family Health Center staff, public health nurses and support, and the pharmacist.
“We wanted to be very cautious before we moved too much further to make sure we could get all of them in, and so largely at this point, if they don’t have it, it’s on them,” Bischoff continued. “We are moving now into those 1b’s as fast as we can.”
They’ve already administered the vaccine to several people who qualify as 1b, and more are on the schedule. Category 1b includes anyone who is 75 years old and over, police and jail staff, crisis responders, teachers/administrators/staff at schools, daycare/early start workers, pharmacy staff, transit drivers, firefighters, customer facing store and office workers, USPS employees, agricultural workers, and mental health providers and staff.
More will get on the list as the county receives vaccines.
“We’re pushing them out as fast as we can,” Bischoff said. “I did slow down for the 1a’s to make sure we could get through all of those folks, but now it’s just as we get doses, I’m getting people on the schedule, we’re getting them done. I get them, I get rid of them.”
He said that the health department had noticed that while each vial of the Moderna is 10 doses, there is actually a little more. It adds up, and they plan to take advantage of the little bit of surplus.
“We’re finding there are not quite 11 doses, and a little more than 10,” Bischoff said, “so we are getting a few more doses.”
The Moderna vaccine requires the administration of a second dose 28 days after the first inoculation.
There is a national debate right now about whether or not to release all the doses at once, Bischoff said, or to hold some back so people can get the needed second dose.
“There’s been news that in the United Kingdom, they are going to do one dose instead of two. It hasn’t been studied. It’s just not a good idea,” Bischoff said. “I’m going to go on record and say that. I’ve got coverage because Dr. Fauci agrees with me. You don’t have to hold back 100 percent of them; there is some math about logistics and supplies that gets you to a very reasonable number that is a) safe to make sure people will get their second dose but b) liberalizes as much vaccine output as you can.”
“As of right now, second doses are scheduled; second doses are good,” Bischoff added. “We’ll have them on hand for people who have gotten their first dose.”
“[People] need to be on top of that,” he said. “We are going to reach out and try to schedule that, to remind people to get there on the 28th day. From our understanding, the 29th day is better than the 27th day, but we really want them in on the 28th day.”
Both vaccines that we have approved in the US, Pfizer and Moderna, are forecasting significant increases in manufacturing over the next two to three months,” Bischoff said. “Actually they will just keep ramping up until they don’t need to anymore. But for us, it’s looking like Moderna will actually double, potentially even triple into February, late February. That’s all good news. Obviously it’s not fast enough for people who really want the shot. I understand that.”
WHHS is planning a shot clinic at Johnson Park on January 21, and as they’ve been calling people to schedule them, they are letting them know that that is an option.
The new phone app that notifies you if you’ve been in close contact with someone else using the application, and has contracted covid-19, has had an update.
Initially, Bischoff said, if you were covid-19 positive, the health department would notify you and send you a personal identification number that you could enter into your phone via the app. It would send all your close contacts notifications, while protecting your privacy. The only difference now is that if you are exposed, you will get a text from the Washington Department of Health.
“We are still involved and we can still generate the PIN here,” Bischoff said, “but this is designed to help us, and make the process semi- automated.”
He encouraged people to use the app.
New regional recovery plan
“The last system for how we would move forward was far from perfect,” Bischoff said. “It was a stressful mess, so (health directors) made noise about that and this is what they came up with. We’d rather have the old system.”
“Phase 1 of the new restart plan has started,” he continued. “Some of the main differences are that this is going to be a regional approach. We got lumped in with Cowlitz, Clark, Skamania, and Klickitat, as a region. That means that Skamania, Klickitat, and Wahkiakum will be tied to the fortunes of Clark and Cowlitz counties. In this region, they have had the worst issues. The metrics that will be used will be basically derived out of these two. I’m not forecasting bright, pleasant, forward moving in our future.”
“There are only two phases so far,” Bischoff said, “but with the state where it’s at, nobody is ready to move anyway. The movements will be week to week and sort of automatic. The intention is that the DOH will post the metrics they will use on Friday, and if those metrics say our region will move forward from Phase 1 to Phase 2, that change takes place 12:01 a.m. on Monday. Inversely, if we are in Phase 2 and the metrics get much worse on Friday, then Monday at 12:01 a.m., we will go back to Phase 1.”
“Phase 1 is pretty much where we are at,” Bischoff said.
For more information on the new recovery plan, including details about the phases, go to: https://www.governor.wa.gov/sites/default/files/HealthyWashington.pdf.
The pandemic and mental health
Bischoff spoke about the lasting impact of the pandemic.
“I know personally there is no way I’m coming out of this the same person I entered it,” he said. “At times it is overwhelming, regardless of who you are in life, or where you are. It’s okay to need help, someone to talk to. The mental and behavioral health impacts of this pandemic are going to last for a very long time.”
He provided contact information for numbers that people could call if they are struggling:
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline-800-273-8255.
Teen Link at 866-TEENLINK, for those who are under 21.
Wahkiakum Crisis Line-800-803-8833.
Washington Recovery Help Line (substance use)-1-866-789-1511.