Grays Harbor County’s COVID-19 case count rose by 57 in Friday’s report, “due to an outbreak situation,” according to public health. Officials wouldn’t immediately say where the outbreak was.
“We’re working on a new outbreak in the county,” said Leonard Johnson, Grays Harbor Incident Management Team Commander, at a public health press briefing before the numbers were revealed. He said the high number for one day was related to an outbreak, and case investigations and contact tracing are underway.
“We’re working on it, and managing it and monitoring it,” said Johnson. Public health does not release names of those involved with an outbreak unless it’s determined the public was exposed. “Don’t think there’s a disconnect just because we have a higher number, we have parameters to work through,” said Johnson.
The new cases raise Grays Harbor’s total to 1,110 since the pandemic started. The total number of deaths remained at 17 Friday. Johnson reiterated the county’s stance on not providing any information, such as age, about deaths from COVID-19. Friday’s data had 130 active cases in the county, with 318 active contact investigations.
The amount of community transmission of COVID-19 in the county — when infection sources can’t be pinned down to a source patient or location — continues to rise, which makes it more difficult for public health officials to contain the spread of the virus.
“Community transmission is continuing increase,” said Johnson. “It’s now up to 43.64% over the last seven days, another 10% increase over the previous report. From July coming into November there has been a 28% increase” in community transmission, said Johnson. Known transmission is around 50%.
“When we don’t have a known source where people are contracting the disease it’s more concerning to us than being able to identify source patients” and being able to follow up with those source contacts to determine the spread, said Johnson.
Johnson conducted Friday’s media briefing, a departure from the past when the briefing has been done by Karolyn Holden, director of the county Department of Public Health and Social Services. Holden has taken a job outside the area and has resigned her position effective at the end of the month.
The county continues to manage 15 active COVID-19 clusters in the county, with a total of 34 clusters for the pandemic. “It’s important to note that we do have patients counted in clusters from outside the county, and the number reflects some of those people,” said Johnson.
Clusters are almost all related to workplaces, and coupled with the rise in community transmission, is leading public health to believe not all contacts are being completely forthcoming with contact tracing efforts.
Epidemiologist Hillary Booth said, “The vast majority of the clusters we’re seeing are detected through people and their workplaces.” However, through contact tracing, some of those cases were found to have outside the workplace not been following the recommendations for distancing and masking.
“It would be miraculous if all the people in our county decided not to participate in social gatherings, but we’re not detecting any of those in Grays Harbor County,” continued Booth. “I think that there is a strong possibility people are not being forthcoming about who they came into contact with before they got sick, because we are only seeing outbreaks associated with workplaces.”
Booth said it’s likely people are attending gatherings and not giving that information to contract tracers because “they’re just not feeling comfortable” sharing those contacts. “This is a call to action for our citizens to make sure (the spread of the virus can be contained and the public kept safe) and we can’t do that if people aren’t telling us about places where they might have had exposure to COVID-19.”
The county is working on getting more testing in the county and Johnson said “probably within the next several weeks we’ll see more community based testing coming in.” There are testing options available now through the county call center, where people “can have access pretty much immediately to testing, but it may take a few days to get the results.” Johnson said the county is also working on providing more tests to include some more testing for people who aren’t currently experiencing symptoms of COVID-19, as “An asymptomatic spread could be as impactful” as one caused by those displaying symptoms.
Work continues on the isolation/quarantine facility next to Hoquiam City Hall, which has suffered construction delays due to equipment deliveries, some of which didn’t arrive until late September and into October, said Johnson. The ventilation system, a critical part of the facility, has been completed, and Johnson said it will go through the final commissioning process Dec. 16. There is still work to be done but Johnson is hopeful the county-owned facility will be operational around the end of December.
As of Friday’s briefing, there were no individuals at the current isolation/quarantine facility, the Sweet Grass Hotel in Ocean Shores. There have been 37 individuals who have used the county’s isolation/quarantine facilities since the pandemic began, with the Sweet Grass being the primary location since July 10. Total overnight stays added up to 243, with 226 at the Sweet Grass, which is being used in cooperation with the Quinault Indian Nation.
The number of overnight stays includes those who needed to stay only a few days if they exhibited symptoms but had a negative test result after checking in. Some are close contacts of those who have tested positive for COVID-19 who could not safely quarantine at home. “And then there are the isolation patients in there that are just required to remain there until they run the course of the disease process,” said Johnson.
With the recent surge in cases, Johnson was asked if the hospitals had plans in place for an increase in hospitalizations. He said hospitals are prepared for increases, and if there were an initial surge in patients, hospitals have the beds and ventilators available. The challenge would come with a significant “sudden mass event,” when staffing could potentially become an issue. But in that instance, the state Department of Health has a “surge group” that can help supply staffing, said Johnson.