The North Tillamook Public Health Information Group presented “COVID-19 Strategies for Tillamook County: Fighting a Pandemic from Behind” during a Tillamook County Board of Commissioners meeting Wednesday, Jan. 6. The group is composed of medical professionals who have interpreted local COVID-19 data.
“The Nehalem Bay Health District, and the North Tillamook Public Health Information Group, have an agreement to provide the very best available science and evidence-based information and resources to protect and enhance the health of individuals, primarily focused in the North Tillamook area,” Member Linda Kozlowski said.
According to the presentation, new COVID-19 case numbers have increased exponentially since November. Dr. Victoria Holt said Tillamook County had a very low positivity rate until December. Tillamook County COVID-19 diagnosed case rates are now 70 percent higher than those of the county’s adjacent coastal counties – Clatsop and Lincoln – and nearly as high at the metropolitan Portland counties.
Holt addressed the new COVID-19 variant that emerged in the United Kingdom and is circulating England and the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, another variant has emerged in South Africa, independently of the variant in the U.K. Holt said moving into February and onward, the county might see an increase in cases if a variant reaches Oregon.
“We don’t really know about how widespread the new variant is in this country,” Holt said.
The number of virus tests conducted each week has been around 300 and has increased to about 400 tests in December, the group’s data states. Tillamook County’s recent testing is still less than half that of metro Portland counties and about 20 percent less than adjacent coastal counties.
Dr. Margaret Steele said being alarmed by the numbers, the group wanted to recommend things we can do as a community to get ahead of the situation. These strategies include universal use of face masks and hand hygiene; physical distancing and limiting contacts by limiting gatherings, avoiding travel, avoiding nonessential indoor spaces and avoiding crowded outdoor settings; and increased testing, diagnosis and isolation, and contact tracing and quarantine.
“The traveling public did a lot of traveling over Christmas and New Year’s holidays,” Steele said.
As part of the recommendation for universal mask-wearing, Steele said the county could issue policies or directives for mandated mask-wearing, provide public information about choosing and wearing masks, and provide masks for visitors and customers. This would reinforce the state’s mask mandate. The city of Manzanita has placed signs mandating mask-wearing along city streets.
Possible county actions for limiting contact include providing physical barriers and visual reminders in businesses to promote adherence to physical distance, Steele said.
“We developed a flyer on gathering safely, which is posted on the City of Manzanita [website], the North County Health District and the BBQ website,” Steele said. “It’s also translated into Spanish.”
Possible county actions for testing and follow-up include ensuring the health department has adequate resources to provide contact tracing and timely follow-up of close contacts and encourage and support efforts to assist those who are isolating and quarantining.
According to the presentation, the state and country will not reach the 85 percent level of immunity until at least the second half of 2021 and there is a need to continue mitigation strategies until herd immunity is reached.
The North Tillamook Public Health Information Group can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org