Health director talks about Covid surge

Karolyn Holden

Karolyn Holden

By Doug Barker

The Daily World

An autopsy has determined that a death in Grays Harbor that has been attributed to Covid-19 in state statistics, actually was the result of other, underlying health issues, county health department Director Karolyn Holden said Friday.

Grays Harbor officials have been reporting one death from the coronavirus. About a week ago, the state began reporting a second, but the county was doing more investigation. At a press briefing Friday morning, Holden said a medical examiner determined that an autopsy “did not attribute that death to Covid.” County Health Officer Dr. John Bausher wanted to do more investigation and asked for the autopsy, she said. The state’s criteria is different, she said, and likely counted the case because the individual who died had tested positive for Covid, “but we have confidence that it should not be counted that way.”

The county is experiencing a surge in cases.

As of midnight Thursday, there had been 55 in July.

“We’re having more cases becasue people are interacting more with people outside their housholds,” said Holden, director of the county’s Department of Health & Social Services. Since February, there have been 95 cases.

She said a cluster of eight cases can be attributed to exposure at open gym and weight-lifting activities at North Beach High School recently. And two cases have been attributed to an exposure at Charlies Sports Bar in Montesano early in the month, including the initial case that prompted the county and bar owners to notify the public of the chance of wide exposure.

Tourism

Holden said that about two-thirds of the Grays Harbor cases can be attributed to people who had contact with local people outside their household. She said she has heard a lot of concern about tourists visiting and bringing Covid exposure.

“It has been frightening to some people, and stunning to me, to watch the backup of (tourists) coming into Aberdeen … but we don’t have any data to support” the notion that there is “transmission from tourists to local residents,” she said.

“Where we are seeing transmission is through close contact, gatherings beyond households and now sporting events” But she added that it’s inappropriate for people living in counties that are in Phases 1 and 2 of the state’s reopening plan, to travel for tourism.

Schools

Holden said health officials are getting increasingly urgent questions from school districts trying to decide whether to proceed with face-to-face classes this fall. At this point, county health doesn’t have definitive advice, she said, but they are expecting a new set of models from state education officials next week that will address what safe levels of in-person teaching looks like. Once those are available, they can be factored into local conditions and data local health officials can offer more guidance to the school districts, but ultimately, it will be up to the districts themselves, Holden said. “I don’t have an answer about what will happen or what we will say, but the degree of increase in cases is alarming and certainly leads us away from school ocurring in an in-person mode wihtout a ton of disruption.”

Surge

She said she has been surprised at how quickly the case numbers surged. Through May, there had been five or six cases a month. In June that jumped up to 22 and with one day left in July, there was already 55. She said the multiple-agency task force that was in close contact when it geared up, relaxed a bit and but is now in close contact again. “We’re surging and we have to figure out how to deal with it,” she said.

County commissioners were to hold a special meeting Friday afternoon to consider adding significantly to the health department staff. “It’s going to be a long, sustained effort,” Holden said at Friday’s press briefing.

Information

She said she is aware that the public has been unhappy with the level of information the department has released. That’s going to expand, she said. The county has a webpage dedicated to local statistics and starting Friday, it also included a breakout of the number of cases by zip code. It will be updated weekly. Demographic information about age, gender and the number of active cases is also available there.

Testing

Testing is still an issue, Holden said, largely with the lag time between tests and results, but also with the number of tests available. She said the state’s criteria is that for every positive case of Covid-19, a county should be doing 50 tests. “At this point we are struggling to meet that metric,” she said.

She said the percentage of positive cases of those tested has been about 2.4 percent. But they only defefinitely hear about the positive cases, she said. Between various jurisdictions and levels of government and private providers, there’s no real infrastructure for accounting for all the test results, she said, and some private doctors may not be reporting negative tests results.