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County commissioners extend local COVID emergency declaration

County commissioners extend local COVID emergency declaration

Coronavirus testing

Testing kits for the coronavirus typically include thermometers, gloves, and cleaning swabs.

Cowlitz County commissioners Tuesday voted 2-1 to extend the local emergency declaration, the third time commissioners have done so since the original order was passed on March 4. The county also reported a double-digit increase in COVID-19 cases for the second day in a row.

The county reported 11 new cases Tuesday, bringing the total to 228. As of Friday 78 of the cases are considered recovered. So far this month, Cowlitz County has recorded 40 new cases.

The emergency declaration continues the delegation of authority for the Incident Management Team, acquisition and distribution of personal protective equipment, and allows small businesses to apply for funds from FEMA, said Chief of Staff Axel Swanson.

The declaration is not related to the governor’s orders or mandates.

Commissioner Arne Mortensen opposed extending the emergency declaration. He said even when viewing the emergency declaration as a mechanism to receive funding, it’s use hasn’t been justified because it’s unclear how much money the county has received as a result that wouldn’t have come in otherwise.

Mortensen said he’d rather the county pay for personal protective equipment out of pocket because the cost would be less than the damage to the economy under current state orders.

Commissioner Joe Gardner questioned how ending the local emergency declaration would affect the statewide restrictions on businesses and gatherings mandated by the governor.

Mortensen said politics has driven the COVID-19 response and if people in the state realize its just politics, the huge pressure on governor might be able to generate a “rational response.”

“As long as we go along for dollars, we’re just part of the problem,” he said. “We’re being bought, (which is) something we should be reluctant to do.”

Commissioner Dennis Weber agreed it would be good to see a breakdown of the funding related to the emergency declaration, But he said he doesn’t have enough information to say the county doesn’t have anything to worry about and then end the declaration.

The commissioners also discussed the possibility of randomly testing citizens to better understand the prevalence of the virus in the county.

Carole Harrison, interim director of the health department, said the board asked the department to look into it. The county doesn’t have the resources to do that alone, and Harrison said she is looking into the possibility of partnering with a college or university.

The commissioners discussed the idea in a workshop last week, after Shannon Hoskins, county epidemiologist, presented a report exploring if an increase in testing was causing the recent rise in cases.

The report found the primary driver of the recent jump in cases was an increase in positive tests, not because of an increase in testing.

Testing and cases increased after Cowlitz County entered Phase 2 on May 23 and after the Department of Health began advising health care providers to test all patients with symptoms, according to the report.

Between May 18 and June 20, the county had a 7% increase in testing and a 1,300% increase in case incidence (the report analyzed the daily average of tests and cases each week because daily numbers are small.)

During that time, the county also had a 1,500% increase in the percent of positive tests, according to the report. As testing rates increase, the percent of positive tests should decrease, according to the Department of Health.

Hoskins said the county should aim for the state’s goal of 50 tests per each positive case, with 2% of tests coming back positive. Reaching that goal would mean the county would be casting a wide enough net to capture a good portion of existing cases and help slow disease transmission, Hoskins said. According to the most recent data on the Department of Health website, the county’s rate of positive cases was 6.9% for the week of June 24.

However, Hoskins said the county still would not capture all its cases even if it meets the state’s testing goal. However, the testing data is still useful because it allows health officials to infer trends in the disease’s spread and identify disparities, she said.

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