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As cold sets in, Clark County Public Health urges caution over respiratory ills

Officials recommend vaccinations, staying home if sick

By Chrissy Booker, Columbian staff writer
Published: January 13, 2024, 6:07am

With the onset of cold weather, respiratory illnesses are usually not far behind.

According to Clark County Public Health, the respiratory disease season starts in October and ends in September of the following year. As the winter continues, Public Health encourages students and the community to take precautions against respiratory illness as youth return to school by getting vaccinated, staying home when sick and considering wearing a mask in crowded areas.

As of Jan. 6, 3.5 percent of total hospitalizations in Clark County were related to COVID-19, according to weekly data from Public Health. That compares with 5.6 percent of hospitalizations in January 2023 and 15.4 percent in January 2022.

While hospitalizations for COVID-19 have decreased over the past two seasons, hospitalizations for influenza have jumped. In January 2022, no hospitalizations in Clark County were related to influenza. Last January, that number was 1.8 percent. As of Jan. 6, 2.7 percent of hospitalizations were influenza-related.

Hospital admissions for RSV in Clark County have slowly increased, as well. RSV, or respiratory syncytial virus, commonly causes mild, coldlike symptoms, such as runny nose, cough and fever, but can make infants and older people very sick. In January 2022, 0.5 percent of hospitalizations were RSV-related. This time last year, it was 1 percent. At the end of last week, that number was 1.3 percent.

Although all three illnesses are circulating, so far Evergreen Public Schools, the county’s largest school district, has yet to see an increase in illness-related absences, according to Craig Birnbach, executive director of communications.

“If there’s more than five kids that are absent in one class, anywhere in the district, our health services manager gets notified,” Birnbach said. “She has not had a notification so far, so we don’t seem to have any kind of anything out of the ordinary as far as any kind of absentee rates for illness in our schools right now.”

Due to the upcoming inclement weather, Vancouver Public Schools was unable to provide data on its absentee rates before The Columbian’s deadline, according to Jessica Roberts, executive director of communications.

According to data from the Washington Department of Health, there were 1,616 COVID-19 patients ages 0-19 from Dec. 3 to Dec. 30, 2023. The virus killed 13 children in Washington between Jan. 1, 2022, and Dec. 30, 2023.

“Ensuring students are up to date on their COVID-19 vaccines and have received an annual influenza vaccine will provide the best protection against these illnesses,” said Marissa Armstrong, Public Health communications manager.

Although Public Health cannot predict whether respiratory illness rates will increase, decrease or stay the same, in previous years, influenza season has stretched into March and April. COVID-19 can spike at different times of the year when new variants emerge.

“Getting vaccinated against these respiratory illnesses can help to prevent rates from increasing and keep our community healthy,” Armstrong said.

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This story was made possible by Community Funded Journalism, a project from The Columbian and the Local Media Foundation. Top donors include the Ed and Dollie Lynch Fund, Patricia, David and Jacob Nierenberg, Connie and Lee Kearney, Steve and Jan Oliva, The Cowlitz Tribal Foundation and the Mason E. Nolan Charitable Fund. The Columbian controls all content. For more information, visit columbian.com/cfj.