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City of Camas responds to ‘uptick’ in COVID-19 cases

City administrator tests positive for coronavirus; mayor urges remote work

Camas Interim City Administrator Jeff Swanson

Camas city leaders took steps this week to help protect public employees during the most recent COVID-19 surge.

“The city has seen a real uptick in COVID,” Camas Mayor Steve Hogan said Monday evening, during the Camas City Council’s first workshop of 2022. “We will encourage people who can efficiently and effectively work from home to work from home (over) the next few weeks.”

Camas’ interim city administrator, Jeff Swanson, is quarantining at home this week after testing positive for COVID-19.

“It hit me Sunday,” said Swanson, who is fully vaccinated and boosted against the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19. “It feels like a really bad head and chest cold, (like) bronchitis and sinusitis.”

Swanson said he was on his way to the Oregon coast on Sunday, traveling to visit family, when he had a “sneezing fit.”

“I have allergies, so I thought, ‘that’s not unusual,'” Swanson said.

Soon after, when he started feeling achy and slightly feverish with a sore throat, Swanson said he immediately masked up around his family and decided to turn around and head back to his home in Southwest Washington. After testing positive for COVID-19 on Monday, Swanson shifted into remote mode.

“This is the first time I’ve had COVID,” Swanson said Tuesday. “I’ve been in touch with my doctor, who said if (I) have a fever break through the Tylenol, or weakness, anything like that, that I should go to urgent care.”

Swanson shared his diagnosis with the public and with Camas City Council members during the Council’s remote workshop and council meeting on Monday, Jan. 3.

“The omicron variant is virulent and is spreading rapidly,” Swanson said Monday. “(City department heads) met this morning and talked about the operational measures we can take to slow the spread.”

Swanson said he believes the highly contagious omicron variant will make its way through the community, no matter how careful people have been to avoid catching COVID-19.

“We know everybody’s going to get it, but we don’t want everybody to get it at once,” Swanson said. “We’re going to take some steps to implement some remote work, rotating schedules and reducing density so we all take our turn getting sick and have adequate, healthy staff to take turns running the city.”

As of Tuesday, Jan. 4, city leaders said they had no plans to close public buildings.

“Where we can, we’re going to encourage people to work remotely, but we’ll leave the buildings open,” said Camas Communications Director Bryan Rachal.

The city’s policy requires employees and members of the public to wear face coverings inside city facilities, and Rachel said city leaders have talked about purchasing more N95 masks – which have shown to be more effective at preventing the spread of COVID-19 than surgical masks and cloth masks – for city employees.

“Our first responders do wear N95s,” Rachal said, “and we’ve talked about providing those for (other city employees). We do have to have a mask on in City Hall. We’re all wearing masks and there is an expectation that the public will wear masks (inside city buildings).”

Swanson said the city’s staffing levels are so lean, he worries about city services being impacted if a large number of city employees were to become ill with COVID-19 at the same time.

“Staffing levels are roughly the same as what they were when the city was much smaller in population,” Swanson said this week. “There is just such a thin, thin margin around staffing levels, it wouldn’t take much to put some services in jeopardy.”

City leaders will continue to encourage remote work when possible for city employees, Swanson said, and will keep track of local transmission rates in case they need to take other mitigation steps.

“It seems like, with this omicron variant, which is very contagious – like measles – that we’re all going to get it. So we need to take tactical steps now, so we don’t have everybody sick at the same time,” Swanson said. “We will monitor what’s going on and, if we need to, we can roll some services back and have more people stay at home.”

Nationally, the omicron variant accounted for 95 percent of COVID-19 cases this week, with Johns Hopkins University reporting that nearly 1 out of every 100 Americans tested positive for the virus last week.

In Clark County, the COVID-19 transmission rate jumped from 263 cases per 100,000 residents on Dec. 23 to 437 cases per 100,000 on Dec. 30. Hospitalization rates due to COVID-19 are also ticking up in Washington state – from Dec. 12, 2021 to Jan. 2, 2022, the number of

Washingtonians hospitalized for COVID-19 increased by 80 percent, jumping from 610 to 1,099 in three weeks. Likewise,according to Washington Department of Health data, the number of Washington residents requiring a ventilator for COVID-19 also increased over that three-week time period, jumping from 93 ventilated COVID-19 patients on Dec. 12 to 126 patients on Jan. 2.

President Joe Biden’s chief medical adviser, Anthony Fauci, told the Washington Post in late December the omicron variant, which studies have shown may be less severe than the delta variant that caused a massive U.S. COVID-19 surge in the summer and fall of 2021, will likely still cause complications for the nation’s health-care system.

“We’re going to have a real challenge to the health-care delivery system — namely the number of beds, the number of ICU beds and even the number of health-care providers,” Fauci told The Washington Post. “Even vaccinated people are getting breakthrough infections. So if you get enough nurses and doctors infected, they are going to temporarily be out of action. And if you get enough of them out of action, you could have a double stress on the health-care system.”

Staff at Kaiser Permanente Northwest hospitals sent an urgent message to the community before the Christmas holiday, predicting a “significant spike in COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations driving by the omicron variant” in the coming weeks and asking people to “get vaccinated and get boosted” against COVID-19.

“Although omicron may cause a less severe illness, it is significantly more transmissible: The spike in hospitalizations is projected to two to three times the September peak driven by the delta variant – from a high of 1,200 patients in hospitals in September to 2,000 to 3,000 hospitalizations from omicron,” Kaiser Permanente stated.

“It is not too late to take action. Please do what you can to keep yourself, your family, your co-workers and your community safe. We are asking everyone to please get fully vaccinated, including a booster if eligible, wear masks and avoid large indoor gatherings … Kaiser Permanente, Legacy Health, OHSU, PeaceHealth and Providence continue to do our part to address this public health crisis. We know our dedicated teams will once again do all they can to care for patients.”

“But, after nearly two years of fighting this pandemic our nurses and doctors are exhausted. Clinical staff and hospital beds are in short supply in all of our hospitals. A significant increase in COVID-19 infection and hospitalizations in Oregon and Southwest Washington will create delays in emergency department care for some patients and additional delays for surgeries, due to the lack of an available staffed bed,” the news release stated.

Kaiser Permanente said the omicron variant has been infecting some fully vaccinated people, but “the good news is people who are fully vaccinated and received a booster shot are less likely to be infected and much less likely to have a severe illness and hospitalization.”

To find a COVID-19 vaccination site in Southwest Washington, visit vaccinelocator.doh.wa.gov, or call 1-800-525-0127 and press #. Language assistance is available on the state’s COVID-19 information hotline. To find a COVID-19 vaccination site in Oregon, visit getvaccinated.oregon.gov.t