As another wave of COVID-19 infections inundates the U.S., Klamath County hasn’t been spared an uptick in cases. But county health officials say the numbers aren’t all gloom and doom.
The last three coronavirus updates from Klamath County Public Health saw three double-digit new case counts in a row —13 on November 12, 20 on November 13 and 11 on November 16, leading to an average of 7.4 new cases every day over the past week. That’s the highest rate so far this year not accounting for the October 3 addition of 56 cases in one day, attributed to an outbreak among strawberry farmworkers and not community spread, which ballooned the 7-day average to 10.1.
The county has reached 534 positive cases. To date, 275 of those people have recovered from the virus, 24 have been hospitalized and three have died.
Lane also said the county’s recovery data may not necessarily reflect the total amount of COVID-19 patients who have recovered. Originally, contact tracers would follow up with positive cases and mark them recovered once they reported that their symptoms had abated. But the Oregon Health Authority changed the criteria for recovery in June, instead requiring county health departments to automatically designate a case as recovered 60 days after they test positive or report symptoms. Therefore, it’s likely that the current recovery number lags behind the number of people in Klamath County who have actually recovered from the virus.
“A majority of people are not down for more than 14 days, and certainly a majority of people aren’t even down for that long,” Lane said, adding that KCPH can’t release the “active” number of cases because it would conflict with the state protocol.
Hospitalizations may also paint a slightly more dire picture than reality. Though total hospitalizations in Klamath County are low, Lane said they can include cases where someone received a mandated COVID-19 test prior to a scheduled procedure and tested positive. Such a case would still count as a COVID-19 hospitalization, even if that person did not check into the hospital to treat the virus.
“Just because a person is hospitalized doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re hospitalized for COVID,” Lane said.
While contact tracing for the most recent case spike is still ongoing, KCPH spokesperson Valeree Lane said it’s likely that much of it can be attributed to Halloween-related gatherings. The timing supports that hypothesis: Events where people spread COVID-19 typically take around two weeks to show up in testing.
Overall, Lane said most cases in Klamath County still trace back to specific gatherings as opposed to community spread, which is much more difficult to trace. That’s good news for county health officials trying to tamp down the spread of COVID-19, and it means that public places like the grocery store aren’t currently as significant a disease vectors as private group gatherings.
“What we’re seeing is friends and family getting together and letting down their guard,” Lane said.
That means Thanksgiving and Christmas will be pivotal points in the fight to control the pandemic, and people should be as safe as possible if they plan to host or attend gatherings for those holidays. Lane said the low level of community spread in Klamath County is a testament to its residents following science-based public health guidelines like wearing a mask and social distancing while in public places.
“I believe that people are doing their level best to protect themselves and others,” she said. “It’s really affirming to the kind of community that we live in.”