Cowlitz County health officials Friday urged people to take precautions and get the COVID-19 vaccine as cases and hospitalizations continue to exceed records.
The county’s weekly case count has seen an almost eight-fold increase since early July, according to the health department. Cowlitz County’s seven-day average jumped from eight cases as of July 5 to 66 cases as of Aug. 5.
“We have this perfect storm of everything opening up, people not wearing masks indoors as well as relatively not a great vaccination rate,” said Dr. Steve Krager, county deputy health officer, during a press briefing Friday. “That combined with the delta variant has created the situation we’re in. We’re in a bad place right now. We want to prevent it from getting worse.”
In the last month, COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations have increased statewide largely among unvaccinated residents, according to the Department of Health. As of Friday, Cowlitz County recorded 7,312 confirmed cases and 106 deaths.
As of Monday, 44.6% of Cowlitz County residents were fully vaccinated and 48.9% had received at least one dose. Statewide, 53.3% of residents were fully vaccinated and 58.4% of residents had initiated vaccination as of Monday.
Krager said increasing COVID-19 activity nationwide is straining hospitals in other locations, and health officials want to preserve local capacity to make sure people have access to care.
“We want to provide some urgency that right now what we’re seeing is incredible dangerous,” he said. “We are seeing a lot of transmission happening, quickly approaching our peak over the wintertime in Clark and already surpassing our peak of cases in Cowlitz County.”
Case counts are rising in all age groups, and children have seen the largest proportional increase in cases, according to the Cowlitz County health department’s recent data report. Krager said weekly cases among residents 17 and younger increased from six in the spring to 42.
In the last month, 35- to 49-year-olds and residents 65 and older also seen higher-than-average increases, according to the county report.
Transmission is happening in public places, at social gatherings, among families and in workplaces, Krager said. Workplace outbreaks had been low but increased in the two months as some precautions got lax when the state opened up, he said.
Cowlitz County COVID-19 hospitalizations have increased since early July, with the weekly rate more than double the state average and the third-highest in the state behind Lewis and Stevens counties, according to the state Department of Health.
As of Friday, PeaceHealth St. John Medical Center had 23 COVID-19 inpatients, up from 19 one week ago.
St. John expanded its COVID-19 unit Thursday to the entire fourth floor, increasing the number of patients it can hold from 20 to 32, said spokesman Randy Querin. The floor typically houses patients who don’t require critical or specialty care.
The COVID-19 hospitalization rate is higher among unvaccinated people, and getting the vaccine will help prevent hospitals from becoming overloaded, said County Health Officer Alan Melnick.
“It’s hard to think that there could not be a space for somebody who is having a heart attack because we’ve got people with a preventable illness taking up hospital beds,” he said. “We have the power to do something about this, and that’s for everybody to get vaccinated.”
Krager said the health department is having conversations with healthcare providers about postponing non-urgent procedures, but it’s unclear when they may do that.
PeaceHealth St. John has recently seen an increase in mildly ill or asymptomatic patients coming to the emergency department for COVID-19 testing. The hospital asks people not experiencing a medical emergency to seek testing or other care outside the emergency department.
Anyone who has COVID-19 symptoms or who has been exposed to someone infected with COVID-19 should get tested, whether or not they are vaccinated or have previously been infected, according to the department. Most healthcare facilities in Cowlitz County offer COVID-19 testing, as well as Walgreens, Rite Aid and Pacific Urgent Care in Longview.