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Aug. 10, 2022

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Clark County health official warns surging omicron cases may strain hospitals

By , Columbian staff writer
3 Photos
A line of students and faculty from Vancouver Public Schools gather outside the Jim Parsley Center for free drive-thru COVID-19 screening Thursday afternoon.
A line of students and faculty from Vancouver Public Schools gather outside the Jim Parsley Center for free drive-thru COVID-19 screening Thursday afternoon. (Amanda Cowan/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

Clark County reported 3,621 new COVID-19 cases this week, the highest number of new cases reported in a week since the pandemic began.

The rapid surge — a 118 percent increase in new cases from last week — is a result of the highly contagious omicron variant currently spreading through Clark County.

Deaths and hospitalizations did not increase significantly this week, but that could change in the coming weeks, according to Dr. Steven Krager, deputy health officer for Clark County Public Health.

“The case rate this week is striking,” he said. “And it’s probably going to get worse before it gets better.”

According to Krager, models suggest that new cases and hospitalizations will likely peak at the end of January or the beginning of February, but that could change depending on people’s behavior. Krager said he hopes the surge is like South Africa’s, where cases skyrocketed and then quickly diminished.

“We hope that is also the case here and that case rates will fall as quickly as they rose,” he said. “But we don’t know for sure how long this surge is going to last.”

Krager said that while the omicron variant appears to be less lethal than the delta variant, it’s still comparable to the original strain of the SARS-Cov-2 virus that killed hundreds of thousands at the beginning of the pandemic. Vaccinations also contribute to that perception, he said, because breakthrough cases are typically less severe.

“We still have people in their 30s dying from COVID-19,” he said.

Eleven new deaths were reported in Clark County this week. The deaths include one man in his 30s, one woman in her 50s, five men in their 60s, three men in their 70s and one man age 80 or older, according to information released Thursday by Clark County Public Health.

To date, 608 people have died from COVID-19 in Clark County. Deaths are added to the county’s total 10 to 12 days after they occur.

The number of new cases rose by 118 percent over last week’s total, with 2,434 confirmed by molecular testing, for 46,118 to date, and 827 using antigen testing, for 6,142. Combined, the new cases work out to an average of about 517 new cases per day, up from about 213 new cases per day last week.

The number of active cases still in their isolation period increased to 3,294 this week, up from 1,601 last week, according to Public Health.

The COVID-19 activity rate, which measures new cases per 100,000 population over 14 days, increased from 437.3 per 100,000 last week to 715.1 as of Thursday. Any rate higher than 200 is considered high by health officials.

Cases likely undercounted

Krager said the case rate is likely higher due to people not getting tested and unreported at-home tests.

“We are significantly undercounting the number of cases,” he said. “That’s always been the case during the pandemic, but especially right now. Case rates are useful for identifying trends, but a more accurate representation of the impact is looking at hospitalizations.”

The rate of new hospital admissions decreased this week, falling to seven per 100,000 residents over seven days, down from 8.6 last week, according to Public Health data.

As of Tuesday, 90.2 percent of Clark County’s hospital beds and 83.1 percent of its ICU beds were occupied. Hospitals reported that 66 beds — accounting for 12.4 percent of hospital beds and 24.6 percent of ICU beds — were occupied by people with or suspected of having COVID-19.

Krager said that hospitalizations will likely start to increase in the coming weeks, which will likely strain already understaffed hospitals.

“We’re really concerned about hospital capacity,” he said. “One of our biggest goals is preserving hospital capacity, because we understand what happens when we lose those systems. Based on these projections, we’re in for a worse surge than delta, which really put our hospitals on the brink. If that’s what we’re facing again, with hospitals already showing signs of strain, I’m worried about where that goes.”

Representatives from PeaceHealth and Legacy Salmon Creek did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

To help slow the spread of the omicron variant, Krager said that people should avoid large gatherings and that they should wear quality masks such as KN-95s if possible when indoors. If people do gather, they should get tested if they’re able to make an appointment. Otherwise, at-home tests are also recommended.

“We realize that testing access is difficult right now,” he said. “We’re trying to improve that. The state has ordered a number of at-home tests, and hopefully those will be made widely accessible.”

If you start to show symptoms or if you’ve been around someone who has tested positive, Krager said that quarantining for at least five days is highly recommended. After quarantining, get tested, he said.

The best way to slow the spread of the disease is vaccinations, he said.

The Washington Department of Health reported that as of Dec. 30, 67.2 percent of Clark County residents age 12 or older were fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

“I don’t know how much more we can push vaccinations, but our booster numbers are not as high as we would like,” he said. “I worry that we’re going to see a larger impact because our vaccination and booster rates are so much lower than other countries.”

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