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Clatsop County Health leaders hold joint COVID press conference

The head of the Clatsop County Health Department held a news conference today with head nursing staff from hospitals in Astoria and Seaside, to talk about the renewed and escalating pandemic in the county, fueled by the delta variant. She called the rebounding crisis a “wildfire” that is beyond containment. Joanne Rideout reports.  Scroll down to Listen [4:10]

Margo Lalich, interim Clatsop County Health Department Director, said the numbers are rising and so are outbreaks in various settings where people are close together.

Margo Lalich:

What is most concerning though about those outbreaks is that they are affecting the vulnerable populations. We have outbreaks in school age populations, in clinical settings, we have outbreaks in very vulnerable populations, as well as work sites.”

Lalich said that while the vaccine does not offer 100 percent protection, it’s the best option for keeping people from becoming seriously ill and being hospitalized if they do contract COVID. She said the health department is no longer focusing on containing the virus – that’s no longer possible. She said the department’s highest priority is vaccination.

Margo Lalich:

And we continue our same strategy. Which is to vaccinate those who aren’t vaccinated, to educate those who are hesitant about being vaccinated. We continue to do direct outreach to employers. We also continue to vaccinate those who have not been vaccinated who are homebound. And of course with the schools rerturning soon, we are working with the school districts to vaccinate those eligible within the school age population who have not been vaccinated and their family members if they so choose.”

Lalich cited the reopening of Oregon, and the simultaneous appearance of the highly contagious delta variant, as factors in spiraling case numbers locally and statewide, that are way beyond what Oregon has seen previously in the pandemic. But despite that, people are no longer masking consistently or social distancing in sufficient numbers to slow transmission.

Margo Lalich:

So, Oregon opened up on June 30th, to great fanfare and celebration. Everyone was excited, and the opportunity to start gathering again including large events. Even through they’re outdoors, they may be very crowded and people are unmasked. So it was a perfect opportunity for the transmission.”

Now the virus is out of the bag. Lalich compared it to a wildfire.

Margo Lalich:

I feel like we’re in the middle of a wildfire. And I don’t do wildfires, I just know the language from the news. We’re beyond containment. We’re beyond really managing it to a certain extent. So we’re identifying what’s most vulnerable in the population, identifying what our needs are. What the hospitals can support. What we can do on the front end. And then some of it’s just going to take its course. And it’s not just us, we’re seeing this in many, many places.”

Judy Geiger, head nurse at Columbia Memorial Hospital in Astoria, said the pandemic has shifted into a different mode.

Judy Geiger:

This surge that we’re experiencing right now really does feel different to those of us at the front lines than the other surges did. We did such great preparation; we’ve been doing it all along. But these last few weeks have been incredibly difficult in the hospitals.”

Geiger said predictions are that the state will be at least 500 hospital beds short by the beginning of September.

Both Geiger and Jason Plamonden, Chief Nursing Officer at Providence Seaside Hospital, said their facilities are nearing capacity. Visitors are not allowed and elective surgeries have been canceled.

Plamonden said there was a compelling reason why all three community health care leaders decided to hold the press conference together.


I mean the reason we’re getting together is that for critical access hospitals it doesn’t take much for a tipping point.”

Countywide, there are so many daily cases now that the health department is having trouble keeping up with case counts. Statewide, there are so many cases in children, that OHA is creating a new page on its online COVID dashboard that will track just pediatric case numbers.

Lalich said this surge is likely to get much worse and last through mid September at least. No one really knows for certain how bad it will get. Lalich, Geiger and Plamonden said another important purpose in holding the press conference was to emphasize how important it is to get vaccinated. It’s only sure tool they have to help people protect themselves.

I’m Joanne Rideout in Astoria.