Saturday, November 28, 2020
Nov. 28, 2020

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Melnick: Clark County in midst of COVID-19 ‘explosion’

PeaceHealth doctor: "The stakes of our personal decisions before us right now cannot be higher"

By , Columbian staff writer

Clark County is in the midst of a COVID-19 “explosion,” according to its highest-ranking health official.

Case counts, infection rates and hospitalization numbers for coronavirus in Clark County have hit new heights, two weeks before Thanksgiving and about seven weeks before Christmas.

Clark County Public Health Officer Dr. Alan Melnick said that eight weeks ago, the county was averaging 28 new cases per day. Last week, it averaged more than 120 new cases per day. On Monday, Clark County added 310 new virus cases, the highest total from a weekend since COVID-19 was officially spotted in March in Clark County. 

During a Monday press briefing, Melnick and local health care leaders called on the public to take responsibility in stopping the spread of COVID-19.

“The COVID-19 case numbers are exploding,” said Clark County Public Health Officer Dr. Alan Melnick. “They are going up at an alarming rate.”

The upcoming holidays, which are known for gatherings, have local health officials and experts worried hospital capacity and resources will be overwhelmed before the end of the year or by early 2021.

Small gatherings have been Clark County’s second-biggest spreader of COVID-19, behind household transmission.

Dr. Ray Lee, the chief of medical staff at PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center, said in the press briefing that “the stakes of our personal decisions before us right now cannot be higher.”

Dr. Hoa Ly, the medical director at Legacy Salmon Creek Medical Center, said his hospital is cutting some elective procedures to increase its bed capacity for an expected surge.

The county currently has 50 people hospitalized for COVID-19, close to double the highest numbers from early spring.

Nearly 9 percent of hospital beds are taken by COVID-19 patients, barely below the 10 percent threshold the state wants counties to remain under. And 76 percent of licensed hospital beds are occupied, just four percent below the state’s desired 80 percent target.

Ly said everyone can wear masks in public, stay distanced and skip in-person gatherings this holiday season to stop spread of the virus. He explained a virus can’t spread itself to others without a host.

“We are fully capable of making sacrifices for a higher calling. We are capable of making difference for ourselves and our loved ones,” Ly said. “The virus can only do what we allow it to do. This is in our power to defeat this virus if we choose to work together.”

Vancouver Clinic Chief Medical Officer Dr. Alfred Seekamp said there remains a COVID-19 testing materials shortage, although testing ability has improved since the early spring.

Vancouver Clinic is seeing a 20 percent increase in testing demand, week over week, Seekamp said. Vancouver Clinic is testing around 2,700 people per week, and Seekamp said the goal is to be at 10,000 tests per week by December. It is recommended you get a test if you have COVID-19 symptoms or close contact with someone confirmed to have the virus.

Seekamp also asked people to stay home this holiday season. Gov. Jay Inslee has banned indoor gatherings, unless you can quarantine for two weeks ahead of the gathering or can quarantine for one week before the gathering and receive a negative COVID-19 test result no more than two days before the gathering.

Health officials recommend outdoor gatherings if you must host one, and ask that there is no sharing of food, utensils or drinks. Outdoor gatherings need to be limited to five or fewer people from outside your household, and everyone must be spaced at least 6 feet apart.

Melnick said people need to take action now. They can’t wait until that hospital capacity is overwhelmed to start being more diligent.

“Then it’s like turning the Titanic around,” he said.