COVID-19 Town Hall Questions and Answers

Release date: 12/12/2020
Sponsored by: Board of Commissioners

Town Hall Graphic

The Washington County Board of Commissioners held a virtual town hall on December 12, 2020, about the County’s on-going response to COVID-19. Questions that came up during the town hall will be provided below, along with presentation slides and a link to the YouTube video. More information about COVID-19 can be found at www.co.washington.or.us/COVID-19.

 

Questions and Answers 

Animals  Case Trends  Communication  Enforcement  Exposure in Our Homes

Exposure Notification and Contact Tracing  Hospital and Clinic Safety  Masks  

Schools  Support for Those Exposed or Those Who Test Positive  Testing  Vaccine ]

 

Animals

Question:

I have noticed that the virus is showing up in other species. What is the county or the state doing to identify if it has migrated to any of the wild animals that are out there?

Answer:

There are studies that are evaluating the spread of COVID-19 among animals, including domestic pets. There have been some isolated cases in cats, but this is not a currently known risk for human exposure.


Case Trends

Question:

Where are our positive cases coming from? Industry? Businesses? In home social gatherings? Also, what is the situation of bed availability in our hospitals? 

Answer:

There is significant community spread so we are seeing COVID-19 cases in many work settings and in social gatherings. That is why we are stressing the importance of taking all precautions: wear a face covering, physically distance yourself and wash hands frequently.

The hospital bed capacity is very limited. Some area hospitals have begun to limit elective surgeries. Additionally, planning has been undertaken to be prepared for further changes if needed. One of the biggest concerns is having enough staff to provide care.

Find more information about case trends on the county's COVID-19 Data page.


Communication

Question:

Having lived in non-incorporated Washington County where there was, essentially, no internet. How is Washington County reaching out to those that don't have internet, either due to cost or availability?

Answer:

Washington County is communicating through all channels possible (print media, radio and TV) not only through social media and web pages. This information is being provided in multiple languages. We create and provide messages to others such as faith leaders and community-based organizations to share through their channels. Oregon Health Authority is also messaging through television and other means.


Enforcement

Question:

How are the COVID restrictions being enforced in Washington county? 

Answer:

Washington County Public Health staff provides technical assistance to all businesses in Washington County so that they understand the current executive orders and how to implement them. If anyone has concerns about a business, they should speak with the manager but they can also send a concern to us at eoc-covidenforcement@co.washington.or.us. Staff will contact the business. If we receive multiple complaints, we will also conduct a site visit and, if necessary, refer a business to state agencies that can do enforcement activities.

Question:

What if you have report[ed] on a work place several times and things are not being change[d] and still have new cases break out and worker[s] being put out of work due to work staff? 

Answer:

When we receive a report of a business or workplace who are not complying with the worksite sector guidance, we work with the worksite to ensure they understand the guidance. If they continue non-compliance, we report the violations to the appropriate state agency.

Find out more about how to comply with public health requirements and enforcement on the county’s COVID-19 Workplace Guidance page.


Exposure in Our Homes

Question:

I want to understand more about the risk of exposure in our own homes.

Answer:

There is a very high risk of transmissions in a home where someone is ill with COVID-19. We encourage that the ill individual is separate, if possible in a separate room, and use a separate bathroom. We encourage that only one family member cares for them and that everyone wears face coverings and are vigilant about hand washing and disinfecting the home.

Find out more about taking care of your household at the county’s COVID-19 Protect Your Household page.


Exposure Notification and Contact Tracing

Question:

What is the status of Washington county's contact tracing program?

Answer:

With the high rates of infection in our county, and across the Portland metropolitan region, contact tracing has become less effective in stopping the spread of this disease. We are asking all individuals who test positive to immediately tell their own close contacts and ask that they go into isolation. Our focus is now on identifying high-risk cases and high-risk-outbreak scenarios to focus on stopping spread, and to provide financial supports for those who need support to complete isolation and quarantine. These efforts are now more important than contact tracing and daily monitoring. We would also urge that people follow the guidance in our after-testing guide.

Question:

Oregon now has an app, Oregon Exposure Notification to trace exposure and let people know if they have been exposed. It would be nice if you mention the app that is available on both Apple and Android.

Answer:

The app is not available to everyone in Oregon, it is in pilot testing in our state. Hopefully it will be widely available soon.

Question:

Since Washington County has so many positive cases, will they be hiring more contact tracers?

Answer:

Washington County has redirected our contact tracing staff to support other important work to help stop the spread of the infection, for example they are focusing on isolation and quarantine. Contact tracing has become less effective with high rates of community infection.
 

Find out more about exposure notification and contact tracing at the county’s COVID-19 Contact Tracing page.


Hospital and Clinic Safety

Question:

Risks for pregnant women who have to maintain in person doctor visits at hospitals that are heavily impacted by COVID. (Example third trimester in-person visits and planning labor delivery at Providence Vincent’s that has a shared West Wing containing Maternity Ward, Emergency, and ICU). Extremely concerning to deliver somewhere that has expanded patient beds to accommodate influx of COVID patients as well as a mobile morgue added to be ready for upswing in death tolls at the hospital. Are there risks of contracting COVID while recovering from birth or C-sections while in aftercare in the facility? Can food prepared by hospital staff be infected and potentially get women sick post-delivery while in recovery?

Answer:

Hospitals are taking all precautions to separate and protect patients through not only physical distancing but staff use of personal protective equipment (PPE) precautions, including housekeeping. Use of face coverings for patients and family in hospital care situations will help protect the mother. Additionally hospitals do pre-screening to ensure anyone ill with COVID-19-like symptoms do not come into the hospital. There is no concern regarding food being infected or being a source of transmission. COVID-19 is transmitted person-to-person by respiratory droplets.

Question:

What precautions or protocols are in place to keep people safe when we have to go to in-person doctor visits, especially hospitals and medical offices that are treating high numbers of COVID-positive patients? Examples: a shared lobby in a hospital that also has shared main elevators and food preparation areas for emergency services, ICU care and maternity wards. How are hospitals and medical offices changing policy and procedures to keep people safe from exposure and infection in these environments?

Answer:

All health care clinics and hospitals have safety protocols in place, such as requiring masks, screening for symptoms, separating people with symptoms and appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE).

Question:

The health care facility protocols you mentioned don’t seem to address people that may not be showing any symptoms yet are COVID-positive from community or household exposure. They could potentially be spreading these virus contaminants in places like elevators, door handles, etc., when going to hospitals for visits or to see in-patients. Are there more sanitation efforts in place as well? Can in-patients contract COVID-19 from food served by hospitals while in recovery care?

Answer:

COVID-19 is less commonly spread through contact, however, in an abundance of caution, we encourage cleaning of common surfaces often and having individuals wash hands frequently. These are new guidelines for all businesses including hospitals. There is no evidence that COVID-19 is spread through food.


Masks

Question:

Hi! I'm wondering about runners or bicyclists on THPRD trails. The vast majority do not wear masks yet stay right on the trail. Is there anyway to address this? They go too fast to talk to!
 

Answer:

We are encouraging everyone wear face covering whenever you are not in your home including outdoors. However, the greatest risk of exposure is contact with someone within six feet for 15 minutes or more.

Question:

What about the landmark Danish study showing that masks make no difference whatsoever to community spread?

Answer:

There are many rigorous studies in the U.S. and internationally that support wearing masks protect both the person wearing masks and those with whom they are in contact.


Schools

Question:

Is there a way for us to make our voices heard with regard to opening schools? The science is absolutely clear that schools should be open, but so long as “case numbers” is the only metric being used by Kate Brown there will basically never be a movement toward reopening.

Answer:

We agree, it is extremely important to our children, families and the economy to get kids back in school. We need to ensure this is done safely for the students, their families and school staff. Reducing community spread is an important strategy to ensure kids can return to school safely.

Find out more information about schools at the county's COVID-19 Back to School page.


Support for Those Exposed or Those Who Test Positive

Question:

So can we discuss a little about the resource support that people can receive if they are positive for COVID-19 or exposure to a COVID-19 and need help with rent, electricity, gas, water, food, etc.?

Answer:

When someone tests positive or has been exposed, we ask them about what supports they need to assure access to food, rental or housing costs utilities etc. We work with our local community-based organizations and public health staff to support families essential needs.

Question:

Are the homeless staying safe in the warming centers?

Answer:

Public Health and Housing Services have worked together to ensure that, as we opened our homeless shelters, we keep the guests protected from COVID-19 exposure. We are placing many of the houseless in hotels and we have a safe RV camping village with supportive services.

Please refer those who need assistance to 2-1-1.


Testing

Question:

Where can someone get testing for COVID antibodies?

Answer:

Visit our COVID-19 testing page for information about where to obtain testing. We also recommend discussing antibody testing with your health care provider as you are able.

Question:

Why is it so hard to get a test and get test results in a timely matter? Some people are trying to be responsible and get tested before seeing people but when the results take three-to-five days, the test basically becomes worthless. Is there going to be a better strategy for tests with better access and quicker results?

Answer:

As we have seen a second and higher spike in COVID-19 infections in the community, testing needs have outpaced our testing capacity in the health care system. We are hoping that newer rapid testing will become more available and reliable so we can use these more often in the coming months.

Find out more about testing at the county’s COVID-19 Testing page.


Vaccine

Question:

I’d like to know if the COVID vaccine is going to be made mandatory for kids to go back to school and will we be given the opportunity to vote on that. I’d also like to know why our high school kids are being given the lowest priority for getting back into school. They need to be back in school NOW! Especially our seniors who have lost everything! 

Answers:

Current vaccines are not available for children, so it will not be mandatory. We understand and agree that we should do everything we can to get children back in school safely. We continue to work with the Department of Education and the Oregon Health Authority on how to accomplish this, particularly as we have very high rates of infection in our community at this time.

Question:

Is there any talk of vaccine distribution based upon positivity rates?

Answer:

Once Phase 1 and 2 priority populations have been vaccinated, populations disproportionately impacted by COVID-19 will be prioritized. In Washington County we are working with our partners to prioritize Latinx and other disproportionately impacted populations.

Question:

When do you think healthy 30-somethings will be able to get the vaccine?

Answer:

Vaccine distribution is expected to take several months. Our current understanding is that the general public may have access to vaccines in late spring/summer of 2021.

Question:

I have a question about the second company coming in with the vaccine. Is it going to be a two-step vaccine as well? Also, when do you anticipate those of us over 65 will be in line for the vaccination? Thank you.

Answer:

The second vaccine in line to possibly be approved is also a two-step vaccine. Individuals at high risk such as those 65 and over, will be eligible for vaccines in what we call the second phase of step 1. We believe this will be in late January or February.

Question:

How will people be notified that it is their turn to get the shot? Will it be like the flu shots of simply [it is time] to get it or will [we] be identified by groups that we are due to go get it?
 

Answer:

We are working with our health care, pharmacy, Oregon Health Authority, other regional counties and other partner organizations to get the word out. We will also use Washington County's social media feeds to get the word out as the vaccine becomes widely available.

Question:

Do you happen to know if we will pay for the vaccine or if the feds will cover the expense?

Answer:

The federal government has purchased the vaccine. There will be no cost for the vaccine, but providers may have a cost for office visits and any other care provided.

Question:

Is there a detailed plan on distributing the vaccine throughout the community (such as where to access, costs associated, etc.)?

Answer:

Washington County public health has a vaccine team working on planning for our community. Oregon Health Authority will be working with an advisory committee with a focus on health equity to provide us with general guidelines. Our focus will be in communication, education and on conducting small-vaccine clinics for specific populations.

Question:

I hear the vaccine manufacturing delays for M-RNA vaccines is due to supply shortages because of competition for COVID testing for materials. Is anything being done to address this at the federal level or at the state level to encourage better use of these supplies?

Answer:

There are efforts at the state and federal levels to increase supplies to assure access to testing and vaccination, including adequate personal protective equipment (PPE).

Question:

Question about the second company coming in with the vaccine. Is it going to be a two-step vaccine as well? Also, when do you anticipate those of us over 65 will be in line for the vaccination?

Answer:

Yes, both vaccines require two doses, three-to-four weeks apart. In addition, it is important that both doses are the same vaccine, you should not mix the two types of vaccinations.

Question:

Can you give the time frame for when the over-65 population will be vaccinated?

Answer:

The hope is by late spring 2021, all Oregonians will have access to vaccination. We hope to have vaccine for those over 65 in age and those at increased risk by early 2021.

Question:

Is there any planning in case vaccines do not accomplish what we all are hoping?

Answer:

We will continue to need to take all precautions for many months until we have more people vaccinated and can achieve community immunity. This means wearing face coverings, physically distancing, washing hands and keeping gatherings limited to small groups of no more than six people from no more than two different households.

Question:

My question is what is Washington County doing in case our worst-case fears occur and the vaccines do not end up being a panacea?

Answer:

We will continue to need to take all precautions for many months until we have more people vaccinated and can achieve community immunity. This means wearing face coverings, physically distancing, washing hands and keeping gatherings limited to small groups of no more than six people from no more than two different households. Please keep in mind that the vaccines have been shown to be 95% effective, so if people get vaccinated we will reduce infections over time.

Question:

Thank you, commissioners, for this opportunity to voice our concerns about the pandemic. Two questions:

First, I heard the Chair say there are about 300,000 health care workers in Oregon but missed how many there are in Washington County. From one of the slides, I counted about 266,000 "doses" of the vaccine coming by year end from the two companies currently providing them. If a dose is actually two shots, does this mean roughly 133,000 will be vaccinated, and does the second shot have to be provided from the manufacturer of the first?

Second, I recently read that Oregon has about 10% of the contact tracers needed to really be effective. While awaiting a vaccine, people are dying at alarming rates. Is anything being done to recruit more contact tracers?

Answer:

In the first round of vaccinations received, only a portion of health care workers will be able to get vaccinations. There will be a priority for those caring for people with COVID-19 getting vaccine first.

At this time we are no longer focused on contact tracing and daily monitoring. Our efforts have shifted because of the change in the community spread of COVID-19. We are focused on working with cases to notify their own close contacts. We've redeployed our staff to help with outbreaks and isolation and quarantine support as our higher priorities. 

Find out more about vaccines at the county’s COVID-19 Vaccine Information page.

 

 

 

Media Contact:

Board of Commissioners
503-846-8681
cao@co.washington.or.us