SOUTH BEND — Last Monday morning, Pacific County had reported just 159 cases of covid-19 in the first 35 weeks since the virus had been declared a national emergency in the United States. That figure would be exceeded in just five days, as the county reported 175 new cases last week.
It started with the 26 cases of covid-19 announced last Monday night, Nov. 16. Then came 55 more cases two days later. Another 94 cases that Friday pushed the county past 300 total cases and into a new and dangerous phase of the pandemic that it had avoided for eight months until now.
Including both confirmed and probable cases from rapid-result testing that have been announced, Pacific County’s case rate over a two-week period from Nov. 10-23 was 823 per 100,000 people. The figure puts the county in unwanted territory as one of the hardest hit areas in the country as November comes to an end.
During the Nov. 18 Pacific County Emergency Management Agency’s Council meeting, outgoing Pacific County Health Manager Stephanie Michael said that about 75% of recent positive tests are from north county residents, while about 25% are from south county residents. In announcing the 94 new cases on Nov. 20, the Pacific County Health and Human Services Department said that currently active cases “are in all parts of the county — north and south.”
PCEMA Director Scott McDougall said this week that while cases really are in every corner of the county, the recent trend of cases are running higher in north county than in south county. He stressed that everyone needs to take precautions when they go out, no matter where in the county they live.
McDougall said that there isn’t any one particular outbreak in the county that is causing the surge in cases. Several workplaces have been hit by outbreaks, and the county continues to see cases linked to social and community gatherings.
While some people optimistically theorize that the spike in cases — both locally and throughout the country — is due to increased testing, McDougall said that simply isn’t the case. The county wasn’t able to identify a positivity rate last week because of how fluid the situation was, he said, but the percent of positive tests was very high.
“It has nothing to do with more testing. It has to do with more sick people getting tested and testing positive,” McDougall said.
The cascade of cases prompted the county health department to request last week that only people who are symptomatic or have been identified as a close contact of a positive case to access local testing and healthcare resources. The county’s testing capacity and healthcare services have become “extremely limited,” the department said in a Nov. 20 statement.
As of Nov. 20, there are currently 141 active cases of the virus in the county, with two of those cases being hospitalized. At least four county residents have been hospitalized due to coronavirus-related complications over the past week. Another case update from the health department was expected to come Tuesday evening, after the Observer’s print deadline.
CDC cautions against Thanksgiving travel; locals split
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention urged Americans not to travel for the Thanksgiving holiday last week, as coronavirus cases are spiking virtually everywhere.
“The safest way to celebrate Thanksgiving this year is at home with the people in your household,” said the CDC’s Dr. Erin Sauber-Schatz on Nov. 19. According to the COVID Tracking Project, more than one million Americans tested positive for covid-19 last week alone, and more than 9,000 died due to complications from the virus.
Gov. Jay Inslee made a similar plea in an address to Washingtonians the previous week, saying that it’s too dangerous for multiple households to gather under the same roof this holiday season.
One way that some people are trying to ensure they can safely spend Thanksgiving with friends and family is by testing negative for covid-19 before gathering. But McDougall stressed that a negative covid-19 test only captures a snapshot in time, and puts a further strain on the county’s testing capacity. Someone can be exposed to the virus, test negative for the disease five days later, attend a Thanksgiving gathering three days after that, and begin feeling symptoms and test positive two days later — 10 days after they were exposed.
Locally, residents were split when it came to changing their holiday plans when asked by the Observer via Facebook on Nov. 17 — before Pacific County reported nearly 150 more coronavirus cases over the next three days.
Tammy McMullen, of Ilwaco, said her family changed plans this year due to the virus. Dawna Hart, of Long Beach, said that her military family has had to spend many Thanksgivings and Christmases without everyone under one roof, including times “way before Zoom and cell phones” existed.
Heather O’Neil, of Chinook, said she was not rethinking her plans for this week, and that she was “living my life.” Vicky Ethridge, of Ocean Park, said she planned to go to her daughter’s house for Thanksgiving. Katie Woods said she was not going to “take away our family” or “ruin traditions” because of the virus, and that Inslee “has ruined enough.”
For members with free accounts, Zoom announced that it would be lifting its 40-minute limit for all meetings on its platform globally from 9 p.m. PT on Nov. 25 through 3 a.m. PT on Nov. 27. To sign up for a free account, visit https://zoom.us/signup.