Health director addresses testing, tracing and vaccines

By Debra Moore

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Plumas County Public Health Director Andrew Woodruff said today he was “cautiously optimistic” after the recent downward trend in the number of confirmed coronavirus cases. “We feel good when we have a day with only three cases,” he added referring to last Friday’s numbers.

Woodruff’s remarks came during the Jan. 19 meeting of the Board of Supervisors. Results are expected later today that will reflect what has transpired over the weekend as well as today. Woodruff said that the downward trend is testament to the hard work of his staff, local health care providers and the community at large.

He also briefed the supervisors on three components of battling the virus: testing, contact tracing and vaccinations.

For the most part area hospitals have taken the lead in testing, though some mass testing events have been provided by the state. While a Jan. 9 event held in Portola successfully tested 81 individuals; a Jan. 16 event in Greenville experienced hiccups and resulted in only nine being tested.

“The model is supposed to put minimal responsibility on locals,” Woodruff said. He anticipates that the Jan. 23 event scheduled once again in Portola will meet with more success as will the Jan. 30 event planned in Chester.

As for contact tracing, Woodruff said there continues to be a 24-hour turnaround. He hopes that soon there will be a contact tracing coordinator in place to relieve the nursing director’s workload.

When discussing vaccinations, Woodruff said there is “a lot going on there.” As of this weekend the county had distributed 795 vaccinations; 395 through hospitals and the remainder through public health vaccination events such as the one that occurred Saturday for teachers and others working in education.

This week the focus shifts to seniors 75 years of age and older. “I never heard so many phones ringing nonstop,” Woodruff said of walking into his office this morning. Today’s signups had some challenges — just as with the teachers, there were jammed phone lines and not nearly enough time slots to satisfy the need.

Woodruff said that the phone challenges should improve as the county’s IT department activates a queue system that will callers can to remain on hold and await their turn, rather than being forced to hang up and repeatedly call back. “We will keep making improvements,” Woodruff said of the system.

Woodruff addressed the batch of Moderna vaccine that has caused some adverse reactions in people in the San Diego area and has been held back while the situation is being investigated. “There were 330,000 doses with less than 10 adverse reactions,” Woodruff said, adding that Plumas received 200 of those doses and had administered 110 of them before holding back the remaining 90.

A lack of vaccine continues to be the biggest issue facing the county and Woodruff joined other counties and agencies in sending a letter to Gov. Newsom outlining the challenges of planning when they are unsure of what their weekly allotment will be.

Supervisor Greg Hagwood asked if Plumas County found itself with an increased number of doses of vaccination, would Public Health be able to distribute it. Woodruff said that currently Public Health is administering 200 doses per week in partnership with hospitals, but would have the capacity to roll out to 600 or more doses per week.

Board Chairman Jeff Engel asked Woodruff if the county had received the freezer it was expecting that would allow for direct shipments of vaccine. “We got our freezer, but we don’t any Pfizer vaccine at this time,” Woodruff responded.

Correction facility update

Sheriff Todd Johns provided an update to the supervisors on the number of positive cases at the county jail. He said 28 inmates tested positive, of which 20 have recovered fully, and he expects more to follow. Twelve staff tested positive, with 10 fully recovered and two more expected shortly.

“Staff at the jail made it almost nine months without a case in the facility,” Johns said. During month nine, two staff tested positive, but it took three more months for the next positive case to appear. “I’m incredibly proud of the work the jail staff has put forth,” Johns said. “Reality is that they’ve done an amazing job.”

Johns said that his staff has worked closely with Drs. Schad and Satterfield and the nursing staff to address coronavirus at the facility. He also acknowledged working with District Attorney David Hollister to release some inmates who did not have the virus and who weren’t considered a threat to the community.

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