Covid cases level; teen suicide on the rise

The Lane County Board of Health and Board of Commissioners on Tuesday, May 3 discussed ongoing health crises in Lane County: the Covid pandemic and the sucide rate among children. 

PublicHealth manager Dr. Jocelyn Warren and Eve Gray, director of Health and Human Services for Lane County, led the group through a detailed presentation on Lane County’s COVID-19 response and recovery. 

Gray walked listeners through the numbers, reporting that our “seven-day rate,” meaning the average number of new cases in a given week, was “135.3 new cases per 100,000 people.” “Our numbers have been up since early April,” Gray said. “But … we are still considered to be low-spread by the Center for Disease Control. If we reach 200 cases per 100,000 population, then our status will be reconsidered.” 

According to LCPH, of the 530 cases reported in the past week, with 12 hospitalized, two in the intensive care unit, and one person on a ventilator. In the past two weeks, 24 cases have been recorded in Cottage Grove; 17 in Creswell; less than 10 in Pleasant Hill; and 228 in Springfield.

“This is not comparable to other surges we have seen previously. That’s largely due to the hospitalization rate, and the number of deaths. Our total now in lane county is 530, with no additional deaths in the past week,” said Gray. 

Now that vaccines are widely accessible, the rate of vaccination has slowed down considerably. 

“We’re also thinking that people who want to be vaccinated have been vaccinated, although we do continue to do a lot of outreach in our rural communities, particularly and among underserved groups and collaboration with our community based organizations,” Gray said. 

Gray also cleared up confusion surrounding virtual vaccination cards, saying, “they are not, and won’t be, mandatory” and that they are “intended to make keeping track of your card easier.” The electronic vaccine card is free and available in 13 languages. 

Due to the widely available nature of at-home Covid tests, keeping track of positive cases has become more and more difficult. The presenters also stressed the importance of reporting at home testing.

“We can absolutely assume that our lab-reported tests are not capturing the full extent of disease in the community,” Gray said. “The positive test results are not just for case counts, transmissibility and public health reporting, but also for the resources we can connect people to. If they need groceries, or rent assistance, it’s important that the public knows that folks who need to miss work are facing other struggles because of a positive test result.” 

There was also a brief update on the forward momentum of the Lane County Medical Reserve Corps (LCMRC). The LCMRC will be a volunteer-based community corps that aids in public health crises across the county, and allows for the Board of Health to streamline its volunteer efforts. Many similar-sized counties, such as Marion, Multnomah and Clackamas have medical reserve corps. 

“The difference between having our own medical reserve corps and having to go through the state are the challenges of deploying volunteers. The issue with that, of course, is that our volunteers that are in Lane County can’t be reached directly, we have to go through ServeOR,” Gray said. “The medical reserve corps will benefit us enormously in the events of other natural disasters, or any other public health crisis.” 

In other business, Roger Brubaker, senior community health analyst and suicice prevention officer at Lane County Public Health, discussed the rise of adolescent suicide in Lane County. 

“I think it’s vital to make suicide prevention visible to the public,” Brubaker said. “Much of my job in suicide prevention is to try to address an inherently traumatic topic in a reserved and approachable way. This time, I really do think it’s quite important that we adjust that setting and think about this with a greater sense of urgency.” 

In Lane County, roughly nine in 14 adolescents (people 24 and younger) die by suicide. And on average countywide,100 people die by suicide each year and roughly 50% of people who die by suicide have a mental health diagnosis. 

“Over the past five months, 11 youth and adolescents from Lane County have died by suicide,” Brubaker said. “Regardless if a trend is seen by people in my position, if the community perceives it to exist, it is important that we respond abundantly and visibly. It is the job of Public Health to influence it in a positive and healthy way.”