Harbor Regional Health Community Hospital posted some sobering numbers last month — nine COVID deaths were reported in September.
There were 29 COVID hospitalizations for the month; of those, six were among vaccinated individuals. Of the nine deaths, one was listed as vaccinated.
Between Sept. 23 and Sept. 29, there were six new deaths reported in the county, bringing the pandemic total to 109; new hospitalizations were at 13, down from 15 the previous week and 22 the week before that. Case numbers continue to rise, from 426 the week of Sept. 16-22 to 502 the past week.
All this while numbers statewide seem to indicate transmission during this fifth wave of the pandemic could be trending downward.
“Unfortunately, we are not seeing that downward trend in Grays Harbor County,” said Nikki Gwin, Grays Harbor County Public Health community health worker. “This week we reported 502 cases of COVID-19, up from the already extremely elevated new case numbers we’ve seen in past weeks. We are frequently seeing over 100 new cases in one day.”
The downward trend statewide is not showing itself here, if the high hospitalization and death rates are any indication.
“This surge is not showing signs of slowing for our county, and this is concerning,” said Gwin. “Our epidemiologist shares that hospitalizations and deaths are typically ‘lagging indicators,’ meaning when we see a trend in cases, we often see it mirrored in hospitalizations and deaths after a slight delay.”
Gwin said public health staff will be keeping a close eye on these metrics in the coming weeks.
“Grays Harbor’s schools are struggling with COVID-19 transmission, the contact tracing that comes with it, and, for some, building closures,” said Gwin. “We are doing all we can to be a strong partner for them as they navigate this.”
McCleary, Aberdeen and Hoquiam are among the districts that have had to return to distance learning in some fashion in recent weeks. Hoquiam high and middle schools were scheduled to return to in-person learning Monday, Oct. 4.
Testing and contact tracing is a way public health is helping schools stay open as best they can based on guidance from the state.
“In partnership with Health Commons Project, Premier Medical Group USA, Grays Harbor County Public Health and local school districts, additional testing was provided for the past two weeks throughout Grays Harbor County,” said Gwin. “School districts worked quickly to set up testing sites so mobile testing units could provide extra surveillance and screening for students, staff, and families.”
Sites included Hoquiam, Aberdeen, Montesano, Elma and McCleary.
“Although these districts were the designated sites, any student, staff ,or family member could access any site,” said Gwin. “During this operation, we currently estimate over 600 tests were performed which goes a long way in helping to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.”
Gwin said public health continues to stress the importance of masking, vaccination, social distancing and other measures to stem the fifth wave and take some of the pressure off local hospital and EMS staff.
“Our local hospitals and EMS staff are still strained,” she said. “The best things we can do to thank health care workers is to help prevent the current surge from getting worse and even further overwhelming the system they’re attempting to do life-saving work in.”
According to state Department of Health numbers, 75,400 total vaccine doses have been given in the county. As of Sept. 27, 49.5% of the total population is considered fully vaccinated; just shy of 59% of the population age 16 and older is now fully vaccinated.
Compare those to statewide numbers: 57.8% of the total population is fully vaccinated; a little more than 69% of the state population age 16 and older is fully vaccinated.
“We continue to offer COVID-19 vaccine clinics at public health and we are now providing booster doses,” said Gwin. “At this time all of our Pfizer clinics are filled, but we open more slots each week.”
Booster doses were recently approved for the vaccine for select groups. Before calling to set up a booster appointment, make sure you meet the criteria before trying to schedule an appointment: Age 65 and older, and those 18 and older living in long-term care settings, who have underlying medical conditions, or work or live in high risk settings.
“We also encourage folks to seek other local providers offering Pfizer if they’re seeking boosters,” said Gwin. Vaccinelocator.doh.wa.gov is a good place to go to look for an appointment. You can also schedule a first dose vaccine appointment with public health at healthygh.org/covid-vaccine. To schedule a second, third or booster dose call 360-964-1850.