Sunday, January 16, 2022
Jan. 16, 2022

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Clark County sees COVID-19 progress, but challenges remain

Transmission rates better; holidays, flu season worrisome

By , Columbian staff writer

Clark County continues to see positive progress with COVID-19 transmission rates, but the county’s highest-ranking health official still has concerns.

At Wednesday’s Clark County Board of Health meeting, Clark County Public Health Officer Dr. Alan Melnick said he’s worried about upcoming holidays, the flu season and school reopenings as possible causes of a resurgence, but right now Melnick is encouraged by reduced community transmission and decreased hospitalizations for coronavirus.

“It seems to be plateauing and maybe even decreasing a little bit,” Melnick said of case counts and hospitalizations. “This has been really good news to me.”

While Clark County is encountering positive COVID-19 news, Melnick said Public Health is still having challenges in contacting confirmed cases and close contacts of confirmed cases.

Public Health is still below desired state metrics for moving from Phase 2 to Phase 3. The county is about 30 percentage points below the 90 percent goal for cases contacted within 24 hours of a positive test. The county is also about 45 percentage points below the 80 percent goal of close contacts reached within 48 hours of a positive lab test.

The county is on track to reach 80 percent of confirmed cases each day while they are quarantining. Public Health is 11 percentage points below the 80 percent target for reaching close contacts each day during quarantine.

Melnick said Public Health calls patients and contacts three times, each call four hours apart, followed by a text. One issue is that some folks don’t ever respond to messages.

“Not all the cases answer their phone or respond to texts,” Melnick said. “We need to look at the attempts as well.”

He said 73 percent of patients have been reached or had contact attempts.

Melnick also said that local providers continue to struggle to find test supplies, particularly for rapid testing. Some supplies have been diverted to states with greater case counts, he said. Larger national laboratories continue to have longer turnaround times of about a week for test results.

“We’re continuing to hear about challenges with supplies locally and across the country,” he said.

Vancouver Clinic is supposed to get a lab-based testing machine in October that will be able to run 400 to 800 tests per day with an 18-hour turnaround, Melnick said.

Clark County Councilors Eileen Quiring and Gary Medvigy expressed concerns around the state’s testing metrics, and whether Clark County could ever meet the targets to enter Phase 3.

“From math mistakes to the number of times we’ve changed our metrics, it has been a moving target for the public,” Medvigy said. “I know that there’s been a lot of frustration on that.”

Quiring asked Melnick if there are any discussions or plans to alter the metrics, so that counties can move into Phase 3 sooner.

“Do you have any idea if the state is improving (the metrics) so that we can open up? Or is that going to happen after Nov. 3?” she asked, referring to the upcoming election.

Councilor Temple Lentz said that while the county is still restricted in many ways, she’s encouraged by how the pandemic response has been handled. She said she sees the progress that has been made. Melnick agreed, and said the next few months will be challenging.

There’s the Labor Day holiday, which could lead to a resurgence, as well school reopenings, Thanksgiving and Christmas and the start of flu season. People will also spend more time indoors in the fall and winter. COVID-19 spreads more easily indoors.

“I’m pleading with people to do whatever we can in the next month, while the weather is still good, to get those numbers down, to reduce transmission in the community,” he said.

Columbian staff writer