Friday, August 14, 2020
Aug. 14, 2020

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Clark County’s COVID-19 response improves

Contact tracing making strides, but testing still a concern

By , Columbian staff writer
Published:

After a couple of weeks of gloomy news about the novel coronavirus, Wednesday’s meeting of the Clark County Board of Health outlined improvements to the county’s COVID-19 response. Some areas of concern remain.

Clark County Public Health Officer Dr. Alan Melnick said the county has been plateauing lately in its case counts, but the number of confirmed new cases is still much higher than the target of nine per day.

The county has been averaging around 30 confirmed new cases per day over the last two weeks.

On Wednesday, Public Health confirmed 10 new COVID-19 cases, the lowest daily report since June 25.

Since March, the county has counted 1,727 confirmed cases and 37 deaths. There are 17 people hospitalized for the virus locally, and 12 people were awaiting test results to see if they have COVID-19.

“I’m hopeful that we have plateaued,” Melnick told board members. “As people continue to physically distance and use masks, hopefully we can continue to make that number go down.”

Public Health has made strides in its case investigation and contact notification work. The largest jump has been in contact tracing, where workers can contact patients within 24 hours of receiving a positive lab report.

At last week’s meeting, Melnick said Public Health was only reaching 7 percent of confirmed patients within 24 hours. That number jumped to 24 percent for July 12-July 25. The target is 90 percent.

Over the last week, the percentages are even better, with 79 percent reached Saturday.

Public Health was able to reach 72 percent of close contacts of confirmed cases within a 48-hour period for July 11 through July 24. That’s less than the target of 80 percent, but better than the 61 percent mark the county recorded when it turned in its Phase 3 application last month.

The percent of confirmed cases who are being contacted daily was at 79 percent for the week of July 18, which is just below the 80 percent target. In that same week, Public Health contacted 90 percent of close contacts daily, 10 percentage points above the goal.

Melnick said Public Health has made strides in these areas because new staff has been added and trained. Also, some questions have been dropped from the phone interview, which allows nurses to move on to the next call quicker.

Melnick said there are plans to add at least 10 new case investigator nurses by Aug. 10. Public Health added three new nurses Monday.

Concerns over testing

Testing continues to be a problem area for Clark County, with concerns over a lack of testing supplies and long turnaround times at large commercial testing laboratories.

Both problems appear connected to spiking infections in other parts of the country, such as Florida, where rising case counts have increased the demand for tests.

“We’re competing with areas of the country that have increased demand,” Melnick said.

Melnick said one local provider had a shipment of testing supplies diverted to Florida. He said local providers have made the decision to decrease their testing because of dwindling supplies. Providers will now focus on testing people who are symptomatic, being admitted to the hospital or about to undergo a medical procedure.

“This is really concerning to me,” Melnick said. “It’s deja vu all over again with what happened back in April.”

Clark County Councilor John Blom asked Melnick what people should do if they have a coronavirus exposure, but can’t get tested. Melnick said that if someone is a close contact of a case they should quarantine themselves for 14 days, regardless of testing status.

Clark County Councilor Gary Medvigy told Melnick that he wanted to speak with him one-on-one because he’s concerned about the testing problems, which have popped up at multiple points during the pandemic.

Melnick said Public Health has asked providers to send tests to state labs, because larger commercial labs have turnaround times of one week or longer. He called those delays “unacceptable.”

“Not only do the patients suffer, worrying if they have COVID-19,” Melnick said of the turnarounds, “but it impedes our ability to isolate and identify close contacts and quarantine them.”

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