The number of positive Covid-19 cases for Grays Harbor County was at 75 as of Friday afternoon, jumping four on Wednesday and five more on Thursday, to make 35 cases for the month so far, according to County Public Health statistics. The county reports one coronavirus-related death and officials said they were looking into whether there is a second.
Grays Harbor Public Health Director Karolyn Holden briefed the county Board of Health Thursday morning at its regular meeting.
“There is another death that occurred and that is currently under investigation,” said Holden. “We are awaiting autopsy results to see if it’s related to COVID-19 or some other cause.”
Recent case surge
The recent significant increase in positive case results is not the result of more testing, said Holden.
“There is some conversation out there about the idea we’re finding more cases because we’re doing more testing, but what it shows is we’ve had high positives showing up at times when there is less testing,” she said. “That suggests the recent surge is related to increased transmission and not increased testing.”
Holden said the county’s response team is coordinating with testing facilities to boost the number of tests available. The state has set a threshold of 50 tests given for every positive result, “so testing is a big thing for us now.”
Community transmission is “clearly” surging throughout the state, “except in Yakima County,” said Holden. There, a big surge in cases was reported around agricultural workers’ housing. The state and county conducted an educational campaign about the importance of wearing face coverings, social distancing and other safety measures, which has resulted in a downward trend in cases.
It’s that type of education and cooperation among the public that will help bring down the surge, said Holden.
“As we work toward getting schools reopened in the fall it really pivots on the ability to mitigate community transmission,” said Holden.
She said some of the more vulnerable populations, because of societal and economic factors, may not be getting the information they need to stay safe.
“Masking and social distancing are tools we have until we get a vaccine,” said Holden. “We are very focused on making sure we’re getting the information to hard-to-reach populations so they know what they need to do to stay healthy.”
Holden said, “At this point we have one outbreak of the disease related to a bar, and two clusters of illness, one from a private gathering and one from a private campground.”
An outbreak is defined, according to Brianne Probasco at Public Health, as a situation where transmission at a single location or event is known to have occurred. A cluster describes more than one positive test with a single location or event in common, but the investigation has not yet determined if transmission of COVID-19 has occurred.
Holden didn’t mention the bar at the meeting Thursday, but last week Public Health reported the potential for exposure related to a positive case at Charlie’s Sports Bar in Montesano. The bar closed voluntarily for a deep cleaning.
County Health Officer Dr. John Bausher addressed the board of health, which is made up of County Commissioners Randy Ross, Vickie Raines and Wes Cormier.
“I see the pandemic evolving in the way we predicted months ago, in that we’re seeing the spike but I don’t think we predicted it to be quote of this magnitude,” he said.
Citizens doing the right thing is what will get the county through the pandemic, he said.
“I want to reiterate one thing: it’s personal responsibility that will make the change,” said Bausher. “In public health we try to reinforce what is done on the personal level, but it is personal behavior that will help mitigate the disease,” meaning following public health recommendations for slowing the transmission of the virus.
“I know the numbers are sometimes confusing for people, and sometimes confusing for us as well,” said Holden. “There is sometimes a disconnect between the state number and ours, because we’re the ones on the ground investigating the disease and they are pulling their reports from a large database. Usually when we finish our investigation the numbers will catch up, but sometimes there is a lag.” Public Health is updating its case information at noon daily, she added.
Currently, Public Health does not include any specific information about those who have tested positive for COVID-19, but did release the information about the possible exposure at Charlie’s Sports Bar, as there was potential for a larger-scale transmission of the disease.
“Currently, we are working on some graphics that will show cases by the week of symptom onset and cases by age and sex,” said Holden.
Expanding some details has become more possible while maintaining federal patient privacy protections with the expansion of cases. In a county of this size, Public Health performs a balancing act between protecting patient privacy while providing information to keep the county’s population safe, health officials have said. “With the elevated numbers now I believe, ethically, we can provide greater detail of cases because there’s less of a chance of having their privacy violated,” said Holden.
Of the 75 cases, 29 are in the 20-39 age group. Next is the 40 to 59 age group with 22 cases, followed by the 60-79 age group with 15.
The state’s health website lists 11 hospitalizations in Grays Harbor County since the pandemic began and an infection rate of 1.9 percent for 3,623 tests.
Grays Harbor County health officials reported four more cases of Covid-19 on Wednesday, putting the total at 70.
County Environmental Health Director Jeff Nelson said his department is working with public health to educate businesses on the long list of requirements they need to follow to remain open in Phase 3. Often by phone, environmental health reaches out to businesses to make sure they understand the rules and comply with them, to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.
Isolation and quarantine
Incident Commander Leonard Johnson was asked to brief the board on the county’s isolation and quarantine capabilities.
“Isolation and quarantine is one of the focuses for the incident command team in order to meet the requirements of the state. To manage disease activity in the county we have to provide facilities if people can’t quarantine or isolate themselves,” he said.
Currently, the county has an agreement with the Quinault Indian Reservation to use the Ocean Shores Sweet Grass Hotel. As of Thursday morning Johnson said the facility had no current isolation or quarantine cases, and it’s only been used off and on for about four clients in the month it’s been in use.
The Sweet Grass is “bridging the gap” while the county refurbishes the old Hoquiam Crisis Clinic into a facility that can handle both quarantine and isolation cases.
“When it’s done it will be a 15-bed facility able to house quarantine and isolation in the same location,” said Johnson. Air ventilation is key to such a facility and a contract to get the facility ready has been completed. Cameras will be installed “to make sure we’re monitoring the area correctly,” said Johnson, who added, “It’s anticipated it should be completed some time toward the middle of September.”
When the Hoquiam facility is completed, “Grays Harbor County will be one of the few counties that has a hardened facility owned and operated by the county,’ said Johnson.