COOS COUNTY — On Sunday, March 29, Coos Health and Wellness is conducting a survey to evaluate emergency supplies in the average household.
The survey is designed after the Centers for Disease Control methodology, known as Community Assessment of Public Health Emergency Response, or CASPER.
“We are attempting to be proactive,” said Brian Leon, epidemiologist with CHW. He added that there has been no indication of tighter social isolation measures or community-sized quarantines to slow the spread of COVID-19, but that “we want to be prepared for that possibility.”
On March 29, Leon said people clearly identified as being with Coos Health and Wellness will knock on randomly selected homes to ask a quick set of questions. Those questions include whether or not the household has a week’s worth of nonperishable food and if there are enough medications.
“This first survey is to get an update on where the community is,” he said. “If there are tighter restrictions, if we see evidence of concern that folks don’t have enough food, we would potentially do a second survey to see if there is an (improvement).”
Leon explained that if there is a concerning lack of nonperishable foods in the average Coos County household, CHW is already working with Oregon Coast Community Action and its food share program to potentially cover needs.
“It’s going to help as much as possible if people are home and can answer their doors,” he said. “It is a random sampling, so we can’t say exactly where this will be done but hopefully we get the rural areas as much as anywhere else. They won’t go inside the home, just speak at the door.”
As Leon explained it, CHW would rather have this information on hand in an event where it’s needed as opposed to being thrown into a situation and not have it.
“This is an indicator of being proactive,” he said.
Area testing for COVID-19
Hospitals on the South Coast aren’t currently processing COVID-19 tests, but have sampling kits.
“Currently, the guidance for hospitals is to test through the (Oregon) State Public Health Lab,” Leon said. “If a patient is admitted with a clinical diagnosis of pneumonia and have a negative flu test, they automatically get tests approved through the State Public Health Lab.”
Last week, local commercial labs went online that are equipped to do COVID-19 tests. This broadens the amount of tests that can be processed. Even so, Coos Health and Wellness advises the public to only go to the emergency room if they have a medical emergency. If someone is sick, they are encouraged to call their primary care provider or call ahead to a walk-in clinic.
“The tests being done by commercial labs takes about three to five days and since it’s been a relatively short amount of time since they started it’s hard to say if they’re hitting that target or not,” Leon said. “I would say public health would certainly like broader criteria (to test for COVID-19), but right now the tighter criteria is because of the current availability of labs.”
Another factor causing problems with COVID-19 testing surrounds the number of available kits for sampling, which are being used at hospitals.
“We absolutely would love to reach a point to test anyone we feel needs to be tested and be potentially where other countries are to let anyone get tested for free,” he said, but added that is just not possible yet.
As for what the test look like, it generally consists of a Q-tip up the nose like what is done for flu testing. This is called a nasal pharyngeal swab. However, some clinicians want samples from deeper in the airways if someone has a wet cough.
“In order to test everyone, there would need to be a dramatic influx of test kits or swabs, more help from more laboratories to come online to perform the tests,” Leon explained. “We’re also suffering as a community, as a country, of becoming low on personal protective equipment. It’s important for healthcare workers taking those (COVID-19) samples to wear appropriate equipment to do so. There are a lot of supply concerns right now that is a barrier to expanding the testing as broadly as we would like.”
Leon underlined the importance of the current mandates for social isolation. Doing so “flattens the curve,” or lessens how many people get sick at one time. If everyone were to get sick with COVID-19 at once, it would overwhelm the medical system.
“We know (social isolation) is a hassle and it hurts, but it is extremely important for the health of everyone around us to get that cooperation,” he said.