Established as The Skamokawa Eagle in 1891

Covid-19 update:

Wahkiakum case load steady; waiting list in preparation

There were no new cases of covid-19 in Wahkiakum County in the last week, with the total standing at 81 cases. Nine cases are currently considered active.

The Washington Department of Health is reporting that five people in the county have been hospitalized, that 1,301 tests have been conducted so far, and 1,063 vaccine doses have been given.

Pacific County had five additional cases on Monday, bringing their total to 723, with 29 considered active. Nine people have died. Cowlitz County has had 3,965 positive cases, and 208 of those are currently active. There have been 45 deaths attributed to covid-19.

Across the river in Columbia County, there have been 1,148 cases, with 21 deaths. And in Clatsop County, the number of total cases has risen to 758, with five deaths reported.

Downward trend

“The graph is showing a nice downward trend for Washington,” Wahkiakum Health and Human Services Director Chris Bischoff said. “To keep that in perspective, we are averaging 981 [new cases per day]. When we shut down the first time, we were averaging between 190-200 a day, so we’re still a lot higher than we need to be. We need to keep driving those numbers down. We need folks to stay cautious, stay separated, keep masking up, and get the vaccine.”

“Variants are going to put pressure on this downward trend,” Bischoff said. “B.1.1.7, the United Kingdom variant, is picking up steam in the United States. We don’t have great surveillance for this. The amount of work to differentiate between the positive PCR test, the normal nasal swab, and the actual variants is a pretty significant amount of work. The ability to surveil has faced declining budgets for 15-20 years and there is not a ton of capacity for it. Some of the estimates are that the U.K. variant is accounting for as much as 10 percent of all new cases in the U.S. That’s a little concerning, but is also not based on a ton of data, so I wouldn’t go to the bank with that.”

The South African variant, B., is causing concerns for a different reason, Bischoff said. Like the U.K. variant, it’s been found in the U.S. It also spreads quickly. Neither variant has shown any sign that it makes the disease worse, as far as symptoms or an increased fatality rate.

However, the South African variant does seem to make vaccines less effective.

An escape variant is a variant or strain that evolves in such a way that vaccines no longer work for it altogether, Bischoff said. Meaning the vaccine does not stop it.

Fortunately, neither of these variants fit that criteria, according to the Centers for Disease Control, Bischoff said, and it’s unlikely that this type of virus will “emerge one that would be fully immune to the vaccine.”

Pfizer and Moderna have responded and are adjusting their vaccine to cover the variant.

“If you’ve already gotten the first and second dose, that one still has a very high efficacy rate against the South African variant,” Bischoff said. “The more concerning one is the Johnson and Johnson one, which applied last week for its emergency use authorization. Johnson and Johnson took a pretty good hit on efficacy on the South African variant. It’s still worth having and will slow down even the South African variant. Any of those three, you may be looking at getting a booster in the next few months as well, provided we can get caught up with everybody else that needs to get vaccinated.”

Vaccine availability

“There is not enough vaccine for everybody who wants it,” Bischoff said. “At some point we are going to be begging people to come in to get to that 70-80 percent vaccinated number. Right now it’s the opposite, we’re beating people off with the broom. I do have to go on record and say that the governor is making decisions that is making this much worse, and that’s unfortunate.”

Wahkiakum Health and Human Services had scheduled 284 second doses this week, believing that second doses were automatically ordered from the Department of Health based on the 28 day timetable between dose one and dose two.

As of Monday they had 200 second doses on hand and were scrambling to find the other 84.

Thankfully, St. John Hospital in Longview stepped up and provided the much needed 84 second doses.

“This is the second week in a row we have not given out any first doses,” Bischoff said. “We have not had any indication that we are going to get first doses for next week either. That means that our lists are just sitting there.”

They are only scheduling second doses right now, because they need to get those done for sure. They will not schedule any more first doses until they receive some.

Regional vaccination sites

Bischoff expressed frustration with the regional vaccination sites.

“It is wrong,” Bischoff said. “They are stealing the first doses from the locals and giving to these regional sites.

“Imagine you are a 75 year-old who lives alone in Long Beach, and you’ve been isolating, you’re worrying about it. You don’t want to get sick, you don’t want to die. You’ve been taking good care to stay away from everybody, and mask up. You are on a limited income, and now you are told ‘We have a regional site that will give you the vaccine.’ You don’t have transportation, you don’t want to get in a car with five other people because you’ve been trying not to do that. If you don’t have that option, you have to take a bus. How long will it take you to get from Long Beach to the regional site at the Clark County fairgrounds on a bus? Everything about that is wrong.

“Pacific County had established several vaccination sites in their county and they were pumping people through those as fast as they got vaccine. They too have not received any first doses for two weeks. It seems like the writing on the wall is that if you are rural and don’t have transportation, you’re not qualified.

Regional vaccination sites

The other major issue is that you have to register on a website that crashes every five minutes. When they opened the registration, a week ago Sunday, it opened at 8 a.m. At 8:30 it was full. So if you are that 75 year-old, living on slow internet in the hinterlands and if you happen to have a computer, you’re not able to get on and register anyway. So save your bus tokens, because we’re not going to give you a shot anyway.”

“I know people out in the public are frustrated, and I share that,” Bischoff said. “I feel responsible for getting those vaccines here personally, so last week was pretty rough for me. Luckily, some friends in other high places were able to come through and Duncan (Cruickshank) and Danelle (Barlow) worked their butts off to make sure we had those. It caused a lot of sleepless nights.”

Waiting list in preparation

In the meantime, the department is setting up a limited call center to create a new list for Wahkiakum County residents which will include people 18 and over with underlying conditions and anyone 50 and over who lives in a multi-generational household.

The call center will be next week, Tuesday through Thursday, February 16-19, from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. They will not be scheduling appointments at that time, just taking names to create a wait list for when they do receive the vaccine. The number is 360-795-1076.

Underlying conditions are listed on the CDC website,

If you are not sure if you qualify, call your primary care provider, Bischoff advised. The health department does not have adequate staffing to answer those questions.


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