Clark County’s COVID-19 vaccination rollout continues to make progress, but the county’s top health official is concerned about the local, statewide and national uptick in coronavirus cases.
At Wednesday’s Board of Health meeting, a day before vaccinations open to anyone 16 or older, Clark County Public Health Officer Dr. Alan Melnick said the county is currently “in a race against the virus.”
“We need to get as many people in our community vaccinated as fast as possible,” Melnick said. “But we also need to keep the viral levels down, because every time the virus replicates, it makes a replica of its genetic information — and every time it does that, it’s an opportunity for mutations.”
Melnick was speaking of COVID-19 variants that continue to arise across the world, creating the potential to set back progress made in the last couple of months.
Clark County is still faring relatively well, remaining in Phase 3 of the state’s recovery plan, Melnick said, but the county has moved from a plateau of cases to a small increase in the last couple of weeks.
The county is in far better shape than it was on Jan. 18, when the COVID-19 activity level sat at 473.7 new cases per 100,000 population over a two-week period. That rate dipped to a low of 88.8 on March 16, but it has since climbed to 139.82 as of Tuesday.
“We have some concerns that case rates are going up nationally, statewide and in Clark County and Southwest Washington,” Melnick said.
Earlier this week it was announced that Cowlitz County, which borders Clark County, will be thrown back to Phase 2 because it did not meet the criteria for staying in Phase 3.
That criteria mandates that larger counties — such as Clark County — must have less than 200 new cases per 100,000 people over a two-week period or fewer than five new COVID hospitalizations per 100,000 people over a one-week period.
The next time phases will be assessed is on May 3, Melnick said.
Melnick said much of Clark County’s recent cases have fallen in people between the ages of 10 and 49. He said younger folks are making up more cases, possibly because many older people have already been vaccinated.
Two virus variants from California and the more contagious B117 variant from the United Kingdom could also be playing a role in the increased caseload, Melnick said.
Death rates for COVID-19 have been dropping nationally, also possibly because of more at-risk populations being vaccinated.
The county’s vaccine supply is in good shape, as it welcomes newly eligible people for vaccination Thursday. Melnick said the county has been averaging 13,980 first doses per week over the last six weeks from the state. Another 10,000 doses from the federal government have been sent to local pharmacies on a weekly basis, Melnick added.
Nearly 29 percent of Clark County has received one dose of vaccine and 19 percent of the county is fully vaccinated. Melnick said the county has made great progress since it fixed the vaccine allocation shortage with the state.
“We’re still a little behind other counties in the state, but we’ve made a lot of ground up compared to where we were in the first 11 weeks,” Melnick said.