Thursday, November 26, 2020
Nov. 26, 2020

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Young adults have highest virus infection rate in Clark County

County offers new ways of looking at disease’s impacts on different age groups

By , Columbian Metro Editor, and
, Columbian staff writer

Clark County’s highest rate of coronavirus infections is in young adults, but the county’s top health official is concerned about the virus spreading to older, more vulnerable populations.

According to Clark County Public Health data, the highest COVID-19 infection rates are in people in their 20s, 30s and 40s.

This new statistic from Public Health reveals COVID-19’s impact on various age groups by taking into account the size of each group relative to the rest of the population.

Clark County reported 62 new COVID-19 cases and no new deaths Wednesday, bringing the county’s total numbers of COVID-19 cases to 4,666 to date, with an average of just over 51 new cases per day reported since Friday.

“It may just be a matter of time before we start seeing more cases and deaths in older populations,” Clark County Public Health Officer Dr. Alan Melnick said at Wednesday’s Clark County Board of Health meeting.

Daily coronavirus infections continue to increase locally. Clark, Snohomish, Pierce and Thurston counties are all seeing increased virus activity, according to the state Department of Health.

The reproductive number (how many new people each COVID-19 patient will infect) is at 1.34 in Western Washington, well above 1, which reproductive rates need to drop below to decrease infections.

The number of total deaths in Clark County remained at 69 Wednesday. The last deaths were reported Monday.

The county’s active cases rose to 183 on Wednesday, and hospitalizations rose from 22 on Tuesday to 26 Wednesday. The number of people hospitalized awaiting test results rose from eight on Tuesday to 12 Wednesday.

The highest COVID-19 infection rate to date is among people in their 20s, at 1,578 per 100,000, followed by people in their 30s, at 1,292.3 per 100,000; people in their 40s, at 1,195.9 per 100,000; people age 80 or older, at 1,088.8; and people in their 50s, at 982.4 cases per 100,000.

Clark County’s biggest COVID-19 spreader (behind household transmission) has been small private gatherings. Melnick said the demographic at these gatherings has skewed younger.

“That may be why we are not seeing the hospitalizations and deaths yet,” he told the board of health.

But Melnick noted that many young adults interact with older populations, whether it be with their parents or in other environments. He’s worried that the county’s surge will become more of a strain on hospitals and deadlier if case counts don’t decrease soon.

People in their 60s are at 724.8 cases per 100,000 to date; people in their 70s are at 647.9 cases per 100,000.

Melnick stressed that flu shots are even more important this year, as they can help reduce strain on hospital systems. Reducing flu infections will also make diagnosing COVID-19 easier for health care providers.

“We don’t want to burden our health care system,” he said.

Racism and public health

During Wednesday’s board of health meeting, Clark County Councilor Temple Lentz introduced a first draft of a resolution that asks the board to declare racism a public health emergency.

Lentz asked the board of health ­— whose members also comprise the county council ­— to consider discussing the resolution at a council time meeting next week, and then vote on the resolution at a board of health meeting in early December.

Lentz sent The Columbian a letter from Clark County Public Health explaining that “social, economic, and environmental conditions create health inequities” for people of color.

For example, Latino people make up close to 34 percent of Clark County’s confirmed COVID-19 cases, but only make up 10 percent of the county’s population. Life expectancy is also lower for people of color than it is for white people in Clark County.

In June, County Chair Eileen Quiring said she did not believe systemic racism existed in Clark County. Lentz said community leaders and elected officials have called on the county to address racism as a public health issue.

Southwest Washington League of United Latin American Citizens Council 47013 President Ed Hamilton Rosales asked the county to declare racism a public health threat so the county could open funding avenues from the state’s emergency crisis model to address racism in Clark County.

Lentz said the resolution would demonstrate the county’s seriousness in combating racism, help Public Health refine and direct its work around racial disparities in health and increase the county’s eligibility and competitiveness for grants to address racism as a health threat.

“The board of health passing a resolution that addresses the public health impact of racism is a natural next step for a county committed to doing this work,” Lentz said.

More data on infections, including demographic data, can be found at Clark County Public Health’s website.