Early in the pandemic, Grays Harbor County health Director Karolyn Holden said she expected a surge of Covid-19 cases this fall. But it actually started in July with steadily rising case counts, and now with cooler weather coming, it likely will start to overlap with conventional flu and other viral and respiratory illnesses, she said Friday.
It will be confusing, she said at a press briefing, because those illnesses “present very similar to Covid.” Her department is working on guidance for health providers to help them decide testing protocol to prioritize the most likely Covid cases.
She urged people to get flu shots, as well as pneumonia shots if those are recommended for them. “If you don’t get one every year, and you’re considering starting to, this would be the year,” she said. For one thing, if someone got a flu shot and still developed flu-like symptoms, it might help make a diagnosis, she said.
76 cases in a week
From Thursday to Thursday, the county reported 76 cases Covid cases. Another 11 were reported Friday. The total number of cases attributed to the county is 412. Six deaths in the county have been associated with Covid.
Holden said it’s her “strong belief” that the steady increase in cases has to do with industries affected by workplace outbreaks.
As of Friday, the county was investigating nine outbreaks, mostly at workplaces and assisted-living facilities, she said, and that could grow when a second round of tests come back for two places. An outbreak is considered two or more cases that are distinctly linked by a location or activity.
She said she felt to be among the fortunate to be able to work from home, but many people have jobs that can’t be done at home.
Hispanics have experienced a much higher ratio of the county’s Covid cases. That group makes up about 10 percent of the county’s population, according to the Census, but as of Friday, accounts for 34.7 percent of the cases. Many Hispanic workers fall in that category of having to work in person, she said. “From a public health perspective, that is concerning to us in terms of health equity. People who are already vulnerable are the first to get hit because they have jobs that can’t be done remotely and they, typically, aren’t the best paying jobs.”
She said a county epidemiologist goes to workplaces that have had outbreaks and “if we saw safety concerns and felt the employer was not adequately addressing them, we could, and would, contact the state Department of Labor and Industries.” She said employees also have the right to contact Labor and Industries when they think working conditions don’t observe Covid safety protocols.
Finding the source
In most cases, the county’s contract tracing indicates where someone got Covid, Holden said.
“We’ve had a very large increase in cases over the last month or so,” Holden said, but about 85 percent of the time county contact tracers have determined that the transmission came from someone the positive case had contact with. In the other 15 percent, the source was unknown. If that number starts to grow, things become more concerning, she said.
Most people are cooperative with the contact tracers, but once in a while someone might test positive and be reluctant to tell health officials who he or she has been in contact with. Whenever possible, Holden said, they will honor the person’s wish to remain anonymous when tracers contact the people who were potentially exposed.
She said the county still isn’t administering as many tests as it would like, but testing capacity is growing and county commissioners just approved funding that will buy equipment for mobile, drive-up sites.
The county is also starting to offer free home tests that people can take on their own, sending the samples away to a lab. To get the tests, start with a call to the county COVID-19 center at 360-964-1850 for pre-screening and instructions.
To qualify for the home tests, one must be 18 years of age or older with a valid email address, phone, and internet access. After the sample is gathered, recipients will drop off their samples at a designated UPS drop-off location. This test is in English only.
The county has access to many home tests kits, she said.
A more complete list of test options is in a separate story on page 2 of today’s paper.