By Debra Moore
Plumas County is under a stay-at-home order and based on projections, will likely remain under one for a while longer. That’s because case counts have held steady and the full fallout from Christmas and New Year’s gatherings has yet to be felt.
That was part of the message shared by Public Health Director Andrew Woodruff and Plumas County Health Officer Mark Satterfield during a presentation on coronavirus to the Board of Supervisors on Jan. 5.
“There have been 497 total cases since the beginning,” Woodruff said. “The cases have been steady; community transmission has been steady.” As of his presentation, there were currently 36 active cases, 3 known hospitalizations, and a total of four deaths.
“I used to say we were defying the odds, (with zero deaths),” Woodruff said, but that changed.
He said that in December, Plumas County experienced a number of clusters and “worked really hard to understand” what caused them. Woodruff described the “most significant” as being in healthcare settings — both Plumas District Hospital and Seneca experienced outbreaks, and there was a small cluster among emergency responders.
“We continue to see some fallout from Thanksgiving,” Woodruff said. “There were three or four clusters related to that holiday. Still waiting to hear from the Christmas and New Year’s gatherings.”
The fear locally, as well as across the state and the nation, is the impact those cases will level on the healthcare system.
“Hospitals are not yet overrun but they’re busy,” Satterfield said. “Most experts forecast that January will be the roughest month in the pandemic. We have every reason to believe that it will get worse before it gets better.”
Both Satterfield and Woodruff stressed the importance of maintaining the local healthcare systems so that they are available for not only coronavirus patients, but for all patients who need care. The shortage isn’t so much one of space or beds, but of staff to care for the patients. Plumas isn’t alone; all hospitals are facing the same issues, which is why there aren’t always beds to send local patients to who might require a higher level of medical care.
“We have many of the same tools that they have at Renown (Medical Center in Reno),” Satterfield said, citing oxygen and such drugs as Remdesivir. And now that they are treating coronavirus patients locally, those tools are being used. “Plumas District typically changes oxygen supply once a week; we have had to change it two to three times a week.”
And local healthcare providers talk with their counterparts to learn the latest interventions. “We are in consultation with these experts,” Satterfield said.
“This is a turning point for us,” Satterfield said of receiving the vaccines. “Up to now, we have had non-pharmacological interventions – social distancing, masks, hygiene — but they’re crude interventions.”
Thus far the county has received 195 Pfizer doses and approximately 400 doses of Moderna to be distributed to those in the first tier, which includes acute care providers, skilled nursing facility staff and residents, home health care workers, paramedics and EMTs. Woodruff explained that initially there was a pecking order within the first tier, but the state has relaxed the guidelines to ensure that as many individuals as possible are vaccinated due to logistics associated with the vaccine. For example, each vial holds multiple doses, and is only viable for a number of hours. It’s important that people are lined up and ready to receive the vaccine, otherwise it would have to be tossed.
While the hospitals handled the first vaccines, as it moves into the community, Public Health will be involved. “This week we’ve got a number of pods that are scheduled – first responders, law enforcement, fire, home health care workers,” Woodruff said. As an example, he said that Graeagle Fire personnel will receive the vaccine on Thursday. Next week substance abuse counselors, public health workers, and dental staff will be added to those eligible.
Woodruff said that the vaccine is not yet open to the general public.
“We are all realizing that we are at the point in the pandemic that the vaccine is a crucial change agent,” Satterfield said. “We have given 288 doses so far in our county – that’s 1.5 percent of our residents (based on the county’s population.” For comparison, California is at 1.1percent and nationwide it’s 1.4 percent.
“We will do much better as the weeks unfold,” Satterfield said, adding that it’s challenging to not know how much vaccine will be received.
Both Woodruff and Satterfield stated they appreciated the work of local hospitals in administering the vaccines.
Stay at home order
Woodruff predicted that Plumas County will remain under the stay-at-home order for a while. “Currently our four-week projection doesn’t meet criteria to exit the order. Cases are steady; hospitalizations are steady. Once we get out of stay home, we will return to the tier system as indicated by case rate.”
He also addressed AB685 – an assembly bill that requires employers to reveal to employees if they have been exposed to the virus and to report such data to the state. Public Health is working with other county partners to set up a data entry point for local businesses. Reports will be by industry, not by individual businesses.