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Sunday, March 3, 2024
March 3, 2024

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Clark County Public Health: Mask up

Spread of 3 respiratory illnesses spurs recommendation for indoor public places

By , Columbian staff writer
Published:

Clark County Public Health officials announced Friday they recommend wearing high-quality masks in indoor public places. The recommendation comes as a trio of respiratory illnesses — COVID-19, RSV and the seasonal flu — continue to plague Southwest Washington and beyond.

“As health officers and health care leaders working to improve the health of Washington residents, we recommend that everyone wear a high-quality, well-fitting mask when around others in indoor spaces to protect against both acquiring and spreading these infections to others,” said Dr. Alan Melnick, Public Health director and Clark County health officer, and Dr. Steven Krager, Clark County deputy health officer.

Clark County’s seven-day COVID-19 case rate rose to 87.5 cases per 100,000 population this week — the most since August. Friday’s statement added that about 38 percent of influenza tests administered in Clark County were positive for the second week in a row.

In addition to recommending masking when possible, officials are reminding people to stay home if they are experiencing flu-like symptoms and to get both the seasonal flu shot and latest COVID-19 booster if eligible.

School absenteeism

Health officials are also reported increases in illness-related school absences in recent weeks — an impact they said extends to businesses, workers and families.

Though schools are still reporting COVID-19 cases each week, they are not required to report individual cases of influenza and RSV — contributing to an imperfect picture of the impact that illnesses are having in schools.

COVID-19 has remained a disruptive factor for Clark County school districts to start the 2022-23 school year, with dozens of weekly cases among both staff and students in bigger districts like Vancouver and Evergreen. Last school year, the spread of the virus in schools peaked in January, in the weeks following the return from winter break.

With the end of Gov. Jay Inslee’s statewide emergency order on Nov. 1, school districts have shifted away from in-person COVID-19 testing at district buildings.

Since the start of the school year, Vancouver Public Schools has stopped providing PCR testing but is still providing in-school antigen testing and at-home tests for staff and students. Evergreen Public Schools is now primarily providing at-home testing kits for students and staff experiencing symptoms.

Health officials also remind that COVID-19 case totals are under-counted due to the use of at-home tests with unreported results.

The updated guidance for sanitation and virus spread prevention from Clark County Public Health is available at https://clark.wa.gov/sites/default/files/media/document/2022-11/IP-326_Respiratory_Illness_Guidance_for_School_and_Childcare_Providers.pdf.

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