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County COVID data shows workplaces, gatherings top infection sources

County COVID data shows workplaces, gatherings top infection sources

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The Novel Coronavirus

This illustration, created at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows the 2019 Novel Coronavirus. The illness caused by this virus has been named coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).

Workplaces appear to be the source of infection in more than half of COVID-19 cases reported since Cowlitz County entered Phase 2 of the governor’s reopening plan, according to a report from the county epidemiologist. Nearly a quarter were from religious and social gatherings.

Epidemiologist Shannon Hoskins presented a report on the county’s virus data to the County Board of Health Tuesday, which is made up of the county commissioners.

About 16% of the cases were from an unknown source or community spread and 6% were traced back to household members, Hoskins said.

However, the infection source data has several caveats, Hoskins said. The county is missing this data for about 23% of cases reported since late May, she said. And the county community health manager believes the data vastly under-represents the amount of social transmission, Hoskins said. Health officials suspect many people don’t want to report they attended a social gathering that’s not allowed under Gov. Jay Inslee’s reopening plan.

Hoskins said to meet the state Department of Health’s target of 25 cases per 100,000 people, Cowlitz County would have to record about two cases per day. Right now the county is averaging about seven per day, she said.

Cowlitz County on Tuesday reported four new COVID-19 cases, bringing the total to 420.

The county also released more information on the fourth COVID-19 death, reported Monday. The patient was a man in his 50s, according to the Cowlitz COVID-19 Incident Management Team website. He was not hospitalized but did have underlying health conditions, according to the IMT.

Earlier this month, the county recorded three COVID-19 related deaths, two men in their 80s and a woman in her 60s, according to health officials. All three were hospitalized and had underlying health conditions, according to the IMT.

The county’s COVID-19 case rate has increased about three or four times from June to July, Hoskins said.

Cases are growing the fastest among 18- to 39-year-olds as of mid-July, Hoskins said. Since entering Phase 2, cases among 40- to 59-year-olds have also increased, while those among people 60 and older have remained steady, Hoskins said.

Hoskins said she couldn’t say for sure, but it’s a “fair hypothesis” that younger people are socializing more and are therefore exposed at a higher rate than older people.

Accounting for underlying populations, cases among Longview and Kelso residents have also increased at a higher rate than the county average, Hoskins said.

The county’s testing rate has more than doubled over the past two months but is still lagging behind the state’s goal, Hoskins said. Additionally, the state as a whole is not meeting its goal of testing 50 people for every positive case.

From June to July, the county saw a three- or four-fold increase in cases while testing went up about two-fold, she said.

Despite an increase in cases, the county is keeping up with case investigations and is meeting or exceeding the state’s targets of reaching cases within 24 hours and contacts within 48 hours, Hoskins said.

Carole Harrison, interim health director, said case investigators and contact tracers will never ask for social security numbers or any payment information. If someone does, it’s a scam.

Dr. Steve Krager, county deputy health officer, said it looks like COVID-19 will be the third leading cause of death in the United States in 2020, based on disease deaths mortality rates from 2017 (the most recent year of complete data).

As of Tuesday, the U.S. has reported more than 147,670 COVID-19 deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It’s unlikely to surpass heart disease and cancer, which number 647,500 and 599,100 annual deaths, respectively, he said.

Krager said he’s gotten a lot of questions about the COVID-19 deaths and how they are counted. Recently the state Department of Health clearly defined what deaths it is counting as virus-caused and how and removed some deaths clearly not caused by COVID-19.

Since the county only recently recorded its first virus deaths, public health is still refining how they are reported, Krager said. Right now, he is reviewing the patients’ charts and reporting them if someone very clearly died due to COVID-19. If it’s unclear, the county would wait to report it as a COVID death until it can review the cause listed on the death certificate, he said.

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