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Cowlitz County commissioners OK refrigeration trailer purchase to increase morgue's cold storage

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COVID-19 vaccine syringes

In March, clinic volunteer and retired PeaceHealth nurse Peggy Malone prepares syringes with the COVID-19 vaccine at the drive-thru vaccinations site at the Cowlitz County fairgrounds in Longview.

The Cowlitz County commissioners Wednesday approved an emergency declaration and gave the coroner the OK to purchase a refrigeration trailer to increase cold storage capacity overwhelmed by a recent increase in COVID-19 deaths.

County Coroner Tim Davidson said Tuesday the morgue and county’s six funeral homes are maxed out on capacity. The morgue’s cold storage can normally hold 10 to 12 bodies and about 15 at surge capacity, he said. As of Wednesday, the morgue held 16 bodies and was at 19 over the weekend, Davidson said.

County to declare emergency to get refrigerated trailer as COVID deaths overwhelm coroner, funeral homes

The new morgue under construction will be able to hold 50 people in cold storage, Davidson said. Staff is set to move into the new building around Oct. 4.

“I just need that temporary relief so we can maintain the dignity of the deceased and get them back to their loved ones,” he said.

Davidson and the Department of Emergency Management recommended purchasing a pull-behind refrigeration trailer for $64,000 plus a delivery fee because it would be more economical in the long run. It would cost $54,000 to rent the unit for a minimum of four months. The trailer should be available in about three to five days, Davidson said.

Cowlitz County on Wednesday recorded 116 new confirmed COVID-19 cases, with 9,286 total confirmed and 1,067 probable cases. The county recorded one new death, with 138 total deaths.

The county’s COVID-19 deaths increased in August and have exceeded the previous all-time high, with the per capita rate more than three times the state average, according to a health department data report. Death counts are considered incomplete for the last four weeks due to reporting lags, so the final August death counts may be higher, the report states.

State, county COVID-19 cases may be flattening, hospitalizations likely to increase

As of Wednesday afternoon, PeaceHealth St. John Medical Center had 49 COVID-19 patients, with 10 fully vaccinated.

County Deputy Health Officer Dr. Steve Krager said Wednesday the county’s case rate is at the highest level ever. The increase is slowing a little, but it’s unclear if cases will continue to climb or go down, he said.

On average per day, the county is recording about 90 to 100 cases, 10 COVID-19 hospitalizations and one COVID-19 death, Krager said. Cowlitz County’s case rate is about double the state’s and the hospitalization rate is three to four times above the state average, he said.

“We have a lot of really sick people. Our hospital is full and they’ve been running pretty much at capacity for the past couple weeks,” Krager said. “Even with a flattening of case rates, hospitalizations may continue to rise, and unfortunately we also know that after hospitalizations rise, deaths go up as well. ... That’s what we’ve seen this whole pandemic and it’s an unfortunate reality of where we are at in Cowlitz County right now.”

Cowlitz County health official addresses COVID-19 vaccine misinformation

Krager said he is hopeful transmission in schools will be low because of the precautions schools are taking.

Longview, Castle Rock and Kelso schools all use COVID-19 dashboards to report cases in schools. Other local districts do not publicly report cases in schools. Kelso only reports cases that are confirmed to be transmitted in schools and has not reported any this school year.

In the Longview School District, five cases were reported on Sept. 1 and five cases reported on Sept. 2, none of which were contracted via school-based transmission. On Sept. 1, two Mark Morris High School students, one R.A. Long High School student, one Columbia Valley Gardens Elementary School student and one Mark Morris staff member all tested positive for COVID-19. On Sept. 2, cases included two Mark Morris students, two Discovery High School students, one Mount Solo Middle School student and one Monticello Middle School student.

Castle Rock reported six student cases and three staff cases since the start of school, none of which were found to be caused by school exposure. On Aug. 30, two high school athletes tested positive, one who had at-home exposure. A fifth-grader tested positive on Aug. 31, and another on Sept. 4. An eighth-grader, a fourth-grader and a third-grade staff member all tested positive on Sept. 7, along with two intermediate school staff members in the fifth and fourth grades who had at-home exposure.

Classes with positive cases have been notified, according to the district dashboard.

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