Local News

Clatsop health officials give covid update: ‘Don’t get too comfortable’

Health officials in Clatsop County held a press conference Wednesday, to give an update on the status of the pandemic locally. Here’s that story.

On hand for the zoom meeting were Margo Lalich, Clatsop County Interim Health Director, Julie Geiger, Vice President of Patient Services at Columbia Memorial in Astoria, and Jason Plamonden, Chief Nursing Officer at Providence Seaside. Geiger and Plamonden said their facilities have seen COVID case numbers slow down or plateau from the recent surge that threatened to overwhelm the rural hospitals.

Geiger said that during the delta surge, CMH cancelled all but emergency surgeries. Things have improved enough now that the hospital is considering taking down its temporary COVID unit, which involves something called a negative pressure room.

Geiger COVID Unit:

Because we were seeing an influx of patients who were needing a negative pressure room, to make sure that covid is not circulating in other parts of the hospital. And we turned our same day surgery unit into a total negative pressure unit for our COVID patients.”

Negative pressure rooms have lower air pressure inside than out. This means that when the door is opened, potentially contaminated air from inside the room will not flow outward. Contaminated air is filtered.

Both officials said their hospital emergency rooms remain very busy. National Guard personnel are still on duty at both hospitals. There are 27 National Guard staff at CMH and 13 at Providence Seaside.

Plamonden said Guard personnel have provided invaluable support handling various non medical tasks, such as helping stock emergency room supplies and answering phones. He said their presence has been a big morale builder for overworked staff.

Plamonden:”Doing those things to free the nurses up so they can provide care for our patients.”

He said the national guard would likely remain on duty at Providence through the end of September and possibly longer.

Neither administrator said they had seen an uptick in cases traceable to the Hood to Coast Relay which flooded the county with visitors in late August.

Clatsop County Interim Health Director Margo Lalich said collaboration between the health department, the two local hospitals and the national guard has helped staff manage the pandemic. Also, retired health professionals in the local community have stepped up to offer their expertise to the department during the pandemic.

Lalich: “Part of the way that we cope and adapt cause we’re all exhausted and fatigued, is that we’re leveraging our assets in the community in the best possible way. And when we do that we actually multiply our resources in many ways.”

She said it’s unclear yet what will happen as we head into the winter months. And even though health professionals, like the public, have been dealing with the pandemic for what feels like a long time, they’re still learning new things about vaccine efficacy, the value of booster doses, and how the fall flu season will intersect with the COVID pandemic. Officials continue to monitor for new variants.

Lalich: “ And I think the sentiment at this point is: don’t get too comfortable. Because we’re not too sure what’s going to present in the months to come.”

The National Guard facility at Camp Rilea in Warrenton is now up and running as the county’s COVID testing site. It’s open for testing Monday through Friday from 9 am to 1 pm. Appointments are required but people can often get in the same day they call. To schedule a test, call 503-325-8500.

I’m Joanne Rideout in Astoria.