Trinity County has only seen six confirmed cases of COVID-19, but the county public health department says they don't take low case numbers as a reason to be less vigilant.
NSPR’s Andre Byik spoke with Trinity County Public Health Director Marcie Jo Cudziol about how the virus is behaving in the county and how they are keeping track of cases and working to prevent spread.
Here are highlights from their conversation. You can also listen to the interview at the top of the page.
On how Trinity County is gauging virus activity
One of the things we ask our public to look at when they're looking at disease activity in the county and how to assess that is to look at not only the case rate, but also the number of individuals that have been isolated over time and quarantined over time, as well as those that are currently being isolated in quarantine.
And the reason we do that is because there's not necessarily a direct correlation between the case number and the number of isolated in quarantine. And here's the reason for that. We can have individuals who've been exposed outside of our county and come back into the county and because this is a statewide issue, we collaborate with other health departments and so they're notifying us in the course of their contact investigation when they've identified persons that reside in Trinity County that may have been exposed. So then we quarantine those individuals. So you may have a higher number of quarantines for a case that isn't even in Trinity County. That's number one.
Number two is do have certain incidences, say, the perfect example for this happening with isolation is inmates that might be coming back as part of the early release or their normal release dates, where they've been tested, and their testing address is the county of the prison. We don't necessarily count those cases. But this particular case it might be counted in another county, but those people are relocating back to Trinity County, and we will isolate them, depending on their status.
On the county’s satisfaction with testing capacity
Testing is not just the quantity but quality of testing and who we're testing. The numbers are sufficient to meet the state requirements for the percent of the population being tested. So we are testing significant numbers of people compared to what we were back in March and April. We did bring mobile testing here, thanks to our partnership with the California Department of Public Health and their contract with the Verily mobile testing site. And our team worked very hard and continues to work hard to ensure those testing sites are available every week, in two different locations in the county.
The challenge recently is the capacity issue, not just with the labs that are running the tests, but also with the delivery systems that must transport those specimens from rural counties to those labs. And so we're having a delay in the reports of those results, which can be problematic in that, with long waits — we've had some that's been as long as 12 days — and we found in one case that by the time we got the results, their isolation would have ended anyway. So that becomes a real concern about being able to do contact tracing and contain any spread in people, their contacts and people who've been positive.
On whether Trinity County's case numbers are an accurate portrayal of how the virus is behaving there
You know, you look at from epidemiological purposes, testing done and what the proportion of positives of those tests are. We're always looking at making our data better, really looking at aligning our data, as things are changing and happening, with what we're seeing. One of the issues that we're looking at is how to report testing when you may have duplicate tests. So people may have a test done more than once, and so it's the number of people that are being tested that we have to rectify and what the number of positives are against that. This virus — we say this over and over — this is so unprecedented. Because it's novel, and it's not like anything we've seen in the context of planning for pandemics. The predictability of this virus is very difficult. There are things that we're learning. I heard someone say this, and this statement really does emphasize this issue is we're building the airplane as we're flying it. New information is coming in all the time about this virus.
The thing I caution our population on is, everywhere around us cases continue to climb. Deaths continue to climb. And experts have stated, and rightly so, that this virus will continue to infect people until herd immunity occurs. Now herd immunity occurs either through vaccine or by mimicking herd immunity by implementing those prevention strategies that we know to work — masking, social distancing, limiting gatherings, staying away from high-risk entities like bars, sanitation, hand washing. The thing I kind of liken back to is Modoc County is probably more isolated than we are. And they recently had a case. And so the concept that this virus can move across borders and still infect people in remote areas is a concern and our best hope to continue to contain any potential spread is to adhere to those prevention strategies, and ramp up testing and contact tracing.
On what things the county will be keeping an eye on related to the virus in the next couple weeks and months
We have a multitude of task forces. In Trinity County one thing we've learned is it's a collective effort. And we have begun to shore up plans with our jail to ensure that we test inmates as well as staff on a regular basis. Test inmates that are coming into the jail and being released from the jail, working closely with our hospital and our health care workers. Our schools will be reopening in Trinity County in the middle of August and we have been actively engaged in our schools. They have a robust plan to try to prevent the spread in schools and protect their teachers and staff.
Testing is a big issue. There's a requirement and a recommendation for specific entities to have regular testing. That's a challenge in this environment. We really need our state and federal government to help us ensure that we can get testing results back fairly quickly as school begins to reopen. The experts are correct. The concern is that the individuals interacting with our children. Our children have suffered tremendously. We all want them in classrooms. We also want to protect the primary caregivers for some of our children that are over the age of 60 are at risk for severe illness as well as teachers and school staff and what that means.
This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity. Click the “play” button to listen to the entire interview.