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‘In a much better place’: Officials discuss COVID-19 transmission, misconceptions

The COVID-19 surge fueled by spread of the Omicron variant in Nevada County has subsided as quickly as it came, according to county Director of Health and Human Services Ryan Gruver.

“I’m happy to report that we’re in a much better place than we were,” said Gruver in a Q&A Wednesday. At its peak, during the week ending in Jan. 28, the county had recorded 1,642 new cases, he said, while last week saw 151 new cases — an amount similar to the weekly totals seen prior to the Omicron surge.

“That’s still an elevated level of COVID, we’re still at nearly double what would have put us in the purple tier under the state’s Blueprint for a Safer Economy, but we continue to go down,” said Gruver. He noted that the pace of the county’s decrease had slowed somewhat, but was roughly in line to the decrease seen statewide.



As of Wednesday, according to state data tracking COVID-19, Nevada County had an average daily case rate per 100,000 residents of 17.1. During the county’s mid-January peak, that average rate had exceeded 190.

The county’s test positivity rate, as of Wednesday, was 6.4%, also down from a January peak of over 25%.



RESPONDING TO MISCONCEPTIONS

The county’s Public Health Officer, Dr. Sherilynn Cooke, and Deputy Public Health Officer Dr. Glennah Trochet addressed a number of misconceptions at Wednesday’s Q&A.

The first was surrounding the topic of “long COVID” and COVID-19 vaccinations.

Cooke stated that “long COVID,” by definition, only occurs in individuals who have contracted COVID-19, and could not be caused by vaccination.

“The vaccines, particularly the messenger RNA vaccines, are made from the spike protein. They basically have the genetic material to tell our cells to produce these spike proteins — it does not produce the genetic material that’s in the RNA that’s in the virus,” said Cooke, clarifying that the vaccines have no infectious component.

She then spoke about the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System, which is co-managed by CDC and FDA.

“This is a system that’s been around for years, primarily used by physicians. If you have an adverse event from a vaccine, you can just report it into the VAERS system,” said Cooke. “However, it’s not only able to be used by physicians, and basically, the information coming into the system is not vetted as it comes in.”

As a result, she said, misreporting using the system has occurred, and certain entries have been investigated and found not to be true.

On the system, Trochet added, “The VAERS system is being monitored every day by specialists at the CDC, and if they see a signal of a lot of reports of a certain side effect, they will investigate that as a priority. And that’s how they discovered the clots that were associated with the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.”

She said that, while the system has been useful, “it is raw data and it needs to be evaluated before you can quote it.”

Trochet then addressed criticism received by the county’s Public Health Department stating that it “doesn’t talk about COVID treatment” and focuses instead on vaccination.

“We do talk about vaccines, because public health is about preventing disease. We don’t want people to get sick in the first place,” said Trochet.

“But we also do talk about treatment. We discuss it frequently with physicians in our community, with the medical community, and our emergency preparedness coordinator spends the better part of her week distributing medication to health care providers and pharmacies, so that they will be available to people who get COVID-19.”

Trochet stated that “some very effective treatments” for the disease now exist, adding that, if an individual is hospitalized, there are medications and protocols which will help them to survive. She said that it was not as bad to become severely sick with COVID-19 in the current moment as it was in 2020, before medical professionals had learned more about how to treat the disease.

If someone is in the early stages of being sick with COVID-19 and is at high risk of complications due to age or health conditions, physicians are now able to prescribe monoclonal antibodies as well, she said, adding that there are also two anti-viral medications which can be taken early in order to prevent complications.

“So yes, we do talk about treatment and there is treatment available should you get COVID-19, but certainly at Public Health, we’re all about staying healthy if you can,” said Trochet. “So, wearing masks and getting vaccinated will help you stay healthy and not ever need any of these medications, but they are there if you need them.”

Victoria Penate is a staff writer with The Union. She can be reached at vpenate@theunion.com


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