Public Health Director: cooperation key to stemming the spread of COVID-19

Cooperation with Grays Harbor County Public Health’s contact tracing efforts will help the county get a handle on the spread of COVID-19, director Karolyn Holden said Friday.

A return to a “normal” way of life, including when kids can go back to school, hinges on community cooperation, she said. That means anyone that has tested positive for COVID-19 or is a close contact of a positive case should adhere to Public Health’s guidance regarding isolation and quarantine.

Updated information Friday showed 174 active contact investigations in the county. Holden said some people may be reluctant to fully disclose where they have been and who they were around during the time period when they were most likely to spread the virus.

“I’m going to make a pitch to try to reassure people we are not looking to be punitive in any way, and their information will be held confidential,” and will guide them through the quarantine/isolation process, said Holden. “But we can’t do the job we need to do as Public Health if they aren’t willing to talk to us and tell us” about their activities.

“The sooner we can bring (the spread of COVID-19) to a more acceptable level, the sooner things like school can ramp back up,” said Holden. She stressed sticking to the basics that have been publicized for months to do your part, like limiting unnecessary travel and not spending extended periods of time with people outside your household.

The Sweet Grass Hotel in Ocean Shores continues to be the county’s isolation/quarantine facility. Holden said since July 10, 17 individuals have used the facility, a total of 108 overnight stays. As of Thursday, there were 67 cases in quarantine/isolation in the county, the vast majority of those doing so at home, and a new county-run facility is expected to open soon for those who can’t isolate safely at home for any reason.

“We’re expecting our 8th Street facility (in Hoquiam) to open around Nov. 1, so we’re getting close,” said Holden. The location, next to City Hall, will have a 15-bed capacity and include the necessary ventilation, monitoring and other considerations for a quarantine/isolation facility.

As far as how the virus continues to spread — the county was up to 538 total cases Thursday, with growing numbers every day — Holden said Public Health has a handle on the transmission of about 86% of the cases.

“Since we started tracking all these cases, 20% of the cases are community transmission,” said Holden. That’s the most problematic source in terms of stemming the spread, as community transmission encompasses those cases that do not have “a known exposure that makes sense to us,” said Holden, meaning it can’t be positively traced to a single location or time.

The majority of cases, 74%, are transmitted by known contacts, either between those living in the same household, sharing a workplace, or another situation where people spend a lot of time together, said Holden. The remaining 6% can be linked to travel.

Holden said Public Health has identified 27 “clusters” of COVID-19, define as cases where more than one positive test shares a time or space, but it can’t be defined as an “outbreak” because the cases can’t be specifically linked to that time or space. There have been nine outbreaks, which is when more than one case can be specifically tied to a location or time.

“I know that there are concerns out there about why we don’t provide details about businesses that are experiencing outbreaks,” said Holden, information that may help workers and others protect themselves from the virus. Holden said a business experiencing an outbreak where Public Health has solid contact tracing information is not identified. Only in cases where any exposure potential among a broad spectrum of the public or lack of proper contact information will the public be informed.

The county COVID-19 death total shot up from five to 10 with three reported in one day Wednesday. Holden said deaths are reported when death certificate information is input into the state’s COVID-19 coronavirus dashboard and doesn’t mean, say, the three deaths reported Wednesday all occurred on the same day.

During Friday’s Public Health press conference, epidemiologist Hillary Booth said not all of those cases died on the same day, the death certificates were just reported within that time frame, and there was “no relationship” between any of the newly reported deaths.