The recent rise in COVID-19 cases in Clark County, which includes a single-day high of 40 new cases confirmed Wednesday, seems likely to pause the county’s Phase 3 application, according to discussion from Wednesday’s Clark County Board of Health meeting.
Clark County Public Health Officer Dr. Alan Melnick said he has been updating Washington Secretary of Health Dr. John Wiesman on the growing infection rates locally. Wiesman has so far offered no new timeline for a Phase 3 decision. The county submitted a Phase 3 application Friday and expected a decision early this week.
Clark County has 883 confirmed cases and 29 deaths.
“It’s hard to speculate, but I think there’s a fairly good chance that we might be put on pause,” Melnick said.
Since the first case was announced in March, the county has reported more than 40 cases before, but only on Mondays when the total positive tests for three days are reported.
Clark County has also accumulated 125 new cases this week, with 68 on Monday and 17 on Tuesday. That’s the highest weekly output so far for Clark County, and there’s still two more days of reports to come.
The previous one-week high for cases came May 26-29, a shorter reporting week because of Memorial Day. That week saw 124 confirmed cases, with most connected to the Firestone Pacific Foods outbreak.
“For the last week or so, we’ve been seeing a significant increase in our cases,” Melnick said during a press conference Wednesday afternoon.
Metrics that once looked positive for Clark County have since turned gloomy. According to data that Melnick presented to the board of health, Vancouver Clinic and Kaiser Permanente saw 2.71 and 2.84 positive coronavirus test rates, respectively, last week. In the eight weeks before that, Vancouver Clinic and Kaiser saw 1.71 and 0.70 positivity, respectively.
The state wants counties to be under 2 percent positivity to enter Phase 3.
“They are not the only people to do testing in Clark County, but their tests are trending upward,” Melnick said.
The county, more recently, has also started to surpass the number of cases per day that the state is seeking for Phase 3 approval. Melnick said the county needs to see fewer than nine new cases per day to meet the target rate of newly diagnosed cases per 100,000 people in the county over a two-week period.
When the county applied for Phase 3, it was averaging a little more than seven new cases per day over the first three weeks of June. In the last week of June, the county has averaged 17.42 cases per day, nearly double the threshold.
In the first three weeks of June, the county recorded 164 total cases. In just the last week of June, the county tallied 122 cases.
According to the state’s risk assessment dashboard, Clark County currently hits three of the five key metrics to reach Phase 3, but it will likely not meet one of those metrics (the rate of new diagnosis) in the coming days if infections continue to stay this high or climb.
The metrics where Clark County performs best right now are with hospitalizations. The county had eight people hospitalized Wednesday, with 60 percent of its hospital beds occupied and 2.4 percent of beds occupied by COVID-19 patients. Those numbers need to be below 80 percent and 10 percent, respectively, to meet Washington’s targets for Phase 3.
While hospitalization rates are good now, and the county hasn’t had a death since June 22, Melnick warned that those metrics are lagging indicators. The recent surge in cases might portend rising hospitalizations in the coming weeks, followed by a rising death toll.
The upcoming Fourth of July holiday is a “perfect storm,” as Melnick said during media availability Wednesday afternoon. He urged people to stay home, and keep gatherings in line with the Phase 2 recommendation of no more than five people from outside your household.
Public Health data from 72 confirmed cases identified after June 22 shows that close to 20 percent of those cases were likely exposed to coronavirus as part of a small or large gathering.
“It’s a recipe for a huge increase in cases, and ultimately, my concern is about hospitals and health care systems being overrun and more deaths,” Melnick said. “I don’t mean to be the master of gloom and doom for the July 4 holiday. … I want people to have a good holiday, but I want people to be safe as well.”