COVID-19 Update

Health authorities continue to stress that slowing the pandemic means everyone should be washing their hands frequently, practicing social distancing and wearing face coverings when out in public.

Eleven new cases were reported in Columbia County from Monday to Wednesday, Oct. 26-28, bringing the total to 270 cases since the pandemic began, the Oregon Health Authority (OHA) reported.

In his weekly report to the Columbia County Board of Commissioners, Public Health Director Michael Paul said he’s seeing a rise in hospitalizations and currently infectious cases.

“That’s a number we watch closely,” he said.

There were eight currently infectious and 14 hospitalizations as of Thursday, Oct. 22, according to the county’s COVID-19 data dashboard. Data is updated weekly on Thursdays at noon. People are considered currently infectious when it’s been less than 10 days since the onset of symptoms.

The majority of hospitalizations and deaths are in people over the age of 60, Paul said, but young people play an important role in protecting older people around them. Measures like wearing masks around others and keeping 6 feet of physical distance between people outside your household can help prevent people from contracting the virus and spreading it to the older people in their lives who may not be able to recover.

“While we’re still much lower than parts of Portland, we still have some hotspots,” Paul said. He compared case data by ZIP codes in the county to see which area has seen the biggest jumps in the last week. ZIP codes 97051, the St. Helens area, and 97056, the Scappoose area, saw the largest increases.

“We have really small numbers, this could be one or two households, but going forward it’s a better way to look at ZIP code data,” Paul said about tracking week-to-week rises.

There are no published outbreaks in Columbia County, but Paul said that’s due to no case clusters in the county meeting the threshhold required in order to be published, not because there aren’t outbreaks in households and workplaces. To be published and reported as an outbreak, there must be five or more cases in a workplace that has 30 or more employees.

The lack of cases in care facilities and senior home complexes is one reason the county’s death rate has remained low, Paul said. The only pandemic-related death in the county occurred in early August.

As cases across the U.S. surged over the past week, Paul reflected on the number of deaths compared to historical events.

“Just to put those in perspective, it’s an astounding number,” he said. “World War I, we’re way past that.”

For comparison, 116,516 Americans died in World War I and so far the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has reported 212,328 deaths from COVID-19 in the country.

It is not certain when the pandemic will be over, Paul said. 

"We have to get used to the current situation and normalize masks, normalize social distancing until we get to that point where we have a highly effective vaccine," Paul said. 

Reports from around the country and world have suggested that even people who have been previously infected can be at risk to become reinfected.

"The idea of herd immunity doesn't seem like the solution right now," he said.

Paul said it is very important to get the flu vaccine this year so hospitals aren’t overwhelmed by both flu and COVID-19 patients. Information about where to get a flu vaccine is available at flu.oregon.gov.

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