We have seen a terribly disturbing increase in the number of COVID-19 cases in the past week, with over 115 new cases in the last three days alone. We have also seen three deaths, 687 total contacts in isolation or quarantine, and we currently have 12 residents hospitalized. This surge in local cases comes at a time when cases in much of the rest of the country are declining. As you know, Douglas County has been in the state-mandated “HIGH” risk level for about six weeks now, and that has allowed restaurants, bars and gyms to open to in-person services. It has also given local elected school boards the confidence to re-open schools and resume sports practices. With the increase in accessibility and services, as I move about the county, I have seen more gatherings and some unfortunate laxity with physical distancing and the use of face masks. While the source of the new cases and clusters in the last week is nothing new, and very similar to what we’ve seen in the past, we have just seen a lot more of them, affecting a larger number of residents.
Our biggest outbreak is at a skilled nursing facility in Roseburg. In less than a week, they went from one positive case on Feb. 5 to over 33 positive cases as of yesterday, Feb. 11. At the current time, there have been no hospitalizations or deaths associated with this outbreak, although it is too early to tell. We would like to point out that the facility is cooperating with the Douglas Public Health Network and Oregon Health Authority to do everything they can to help prevent further spread of the virus by performing frequent screenings, identifying cases in the pre-symptomatic period and doing a good job of quarantining patients and staff. The only bright side is that staff and residents that chose to get the COVID-19 vaccine were almost all protected from contracting the virus. Unfortunately, that means that almost all of the cases are among unvaccinated patients and staff, that while eligible to get the COVID-19 vaccine in the first phase of vaccine distribution for front line health care workers (since December 2020), have not got vaccinated with the COVID-19 vaccine. In a recent survey by AARP, which surveyed roughly 90% of facilities in the United States that are participating in the federal vaccination program that have received COVID-19 vaccines since Dec. 15, but found that only a median of 37.5% of nursing home workers had opted to receive the vaccine. While we definitely cannot force anyone to get the vaccine, we can urge those that are eligible, especially those that work closely with others, care for others or work with the public, to seriously consider getting the vaccine if you are eligible. While the closures, distance learning, masking, hand washing and six-foot distancing measures do help; the only way we are going to see life return to some normalcy is with residents choosing to get vaccinated. We only have to look at the history of pandemics and disease to see that vaccines have had a huge impact on the future transmission of diseases.
The COVID-19 vaccine was offered to staff and patients at this facility. Those who were vaccinated had over 90% protection and almost all of the cases among staff were from those who were not vaccinated. This is proof that the vaccine works. If you are a front line caregiver and are eligible for the vaccine, please get it!
As far as community spread, we are seeing an increase in the number of school cases, more local church clusters, more cases associated with parties, gatherings and celebrations, cases related to travel and visitors and a few workplace outbreaks, all related to people who are congregating without six-foot social distancing and not using face coverings. As a reminder, our state-mandated risk level does not affect the ability of faith-based organizations and local school districts to offer in-person services and classes. Churches are able to make decisions for their own congregations. And, locally elected school boards are able to make independent decisions for their educational programs.
Since the first of the year, we have seen 19 K-12 schools and two daycares with positive cases. Forty-four percent of our current outbreaks are associated with the nineteen local schools in all parts of the county. In almost all of the cases, the disease is brought from the outside to school by students or staff. We have also seen spread among sports team members, but no obvious spread between students and teachers or among students in the classroom. As educators, students and staff may have lots of contacts at school, we are currently quarantining over 300 students and staff. So although schools usually only have one to three positive cases and 30-100 contacts, the sheer number of people and communities that each of these school outbreaks effects is significant.
We have seen a few workplace outbreaks. These are reported each Wednesday by the OHA and expect more of our recent cases to be published next week. Most of the spread in workplaces seems to occur among staff during close, unprotected contact during breaks and lunch periods or in after-work activities. Additionally, many young people work multiple jobs and have spouses who work, so workplace outbreaks spread quickly and can affect multiple businesses all at once. We do want to point out that we have not had any large outbreaks related to the gyms, restaurants or bars that have re-opened over the past six weeks, while we are in our current state-mandated risk level. The large church outbreaks from the holiday period have quieted, but we are seeing another surge in church case clusters happening. We continue to see cases related to parties and gatherings, as well as cases associated with travel to and from COVID-19 hot spots.
There are some things we do not know. We do not know if variants of the Sar-CoV2 are associated with these outbreaks. We have sent samples for genomic analysis, but the results take time. Also, we do not know how these cases will affect our county risk level, as we are only a few days in this measurement period. But, if we keep on the current trend with case numbers and outbreaks, we will definitely see movement to the state’s “Extreme” risk level.
However, these things we do know:
- COVID-19 is still very much with us.
- Vaccines do work, as is obvious from our nursing home outbreak. Those eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine, especially nursing home workers and residents, should get the vaccine.
- Public health measures do work. We encourage everyone to increase their vigilance to these measures, such as distancing, wearing masks and staying home when you are sick!