PACIFIC COUNTY — Cases of covid-19 continued to swarm through Pacific County communities, as the past week brought more death and severe illness to local residents of all ages.

According to the Pacific County Health and Human Services Department, another 75 cases, eight hospitalizations and two deaths were reported over the previous week as of Aug. 30. The deaths were the 19th and 20th due to complications from covid-19 that the county has recorded since the pandemic began. The two victims included individuals in their 70s and 90s, with the most recent victim before that being in their 20s.

Of at least eight new hospitalizations being reported in the county in the past week, the patients severely struggling with the virus cut through generations. The recently hospitalized include an individual between the ages of 10-19, one individual in their 20s, one in their 40s, two in their 50s, two in their 60s and one in their 70s. All told, 70 county residents have now been hospitalized because of coronavirus complications since the pandemic began.

The total number of cases recorded in the county since the pandemic began sat at 1,496 as of Monday, and has likely already topped 1,500 cases before this week’s print issue has arrived in mailboxes. With the newly released Census data in hand, the best estimation is that about 6.5% of the county population, or 1-in-15 people, are confirmed to have tested positive for the virus.

The total number of cases, which will continue to rise higher and higher, is a staggering figure that few likely thought was possible in the earliest months of the pandemic, when Pacific County was largely spared from the sickness and death that the country as a whole was experiencing. The 20 deaths in the county outpace the 13 deaths in neighboring Clatsop County, which has a population nearly twice as large.

Hospital, testing crunch

County health director Katie Lindstrom said that the county’s two small hospitals continue to have trouble in being able to expeditiously transfer hospitalized covid-19 patients to out-of-county hospitals to receive more specialized care.

The region continues to see some of its highest hospitalization rates among patients with covid-19 since the pandemic began, with vacant staffed ICU beds hard to come by. According to the state Department of Health, 1,440 people in Washington were hospitalized with covid-19 on Aug. 29, with 182 on ventilators.. The week before, 1,240 were hospitalized with covid-19, with 167 on ventilators.

“It affects everybody, because people with covid are taking up a lot of the capacity, so some things that are quasi-elective surgeries are getting canceled,” Lindstrom said. “It’s a domino effect.”

Lindstrom said the health department and local providers are now also facing testing difficulties as the demand for covid-19 testing increases.

“We are really doing everything we can. The pharmacies, the hospitals, [the health department], we’re all testing and doing as much as we can. But even with us doing as much as we can, we still have a really high test positivity rate, and we have way more people who need testing — or want testing — than we have capacity to do,” Lindstrom said.

With the shortages local providers are currently facing, Lindstrom said they are requesting that only people who need a test for a medical reason seek out local testing options. Testing providers may soon begin screening out people who want to get tested for travel or other non-medical reasons if the local testing situation does not improve.

Glimmers of hope

While the pandemic continues to hit the area hard, there are some glimmers of hope that progress is being made and that the situation locally could be starting to improve.

“Just” 75 new cases of covid-19 were reported from last Aug. 24-30 in Pacific County, after 95 cases were reported from Aug. 17-23. The case rate per 100,000 people over a two-week period rose from the previous week, but just marginally so, from 799 to 808.

The vaccination rate also continues at a more robust level than it did for much of the summer. The percentage of county residents who have received at least one covid-19 vaccine dose rose from 52.3 to 52.9% over the past week. If that rate were to continue for the rest of the year, the number of residents in Pacific County with at least one vaccine dose would be near 65% as 2022 begins.

“The true story of where vaccines are effective is drastically reducing your risk of hospitalization and death,” Lindstrom said, adding that more than 90% of all hospitalizations in the county since the vaccines became widely available have come from people who were unvaccinated. “I feel like that’s one of the messages that’s been lost.”

Lindstrom said the health department could have news relatively soon on preliminary planning regarding booster shots for the general population, although they have not yet been federally authorized. Additional doses are currently only authorized for certain immunocompromised people who are especially vulnerable to covid-19 and may not build the same level of immunity to a 2-dose vaccine series as compared to non-immunocompromised people.

With a flurry of large events in the past week or two, school resuming full-time and in-person this week and other large events coming up, Lindstrom said it’s too early to tell if the peak from this current wave is ahead of or behind us.

“It could be hard. We tend to see the effects of these large events, like big weddings and different gatherings, about a week after is when it starts. So I’m kind of nervous, because this past week was a busy week with a lot of stuff going on,” Lindstrom said.

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