Illnesses and drugs overdoses have long been issues of concern to the Chelan Douglas Health Board and members of the community.  

At Monday’s health board meeting, many people, either in person or video, heard from District Health Officer Dr. James Wallace give his report on trends involving infectious diseases and opioid deaths. 

Wallace started his presentation with numbers on people diagnosed with Covid, Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV), influenza and the common cold. 

 “From a COVID perspective, we're seeing low level activity but persistent activity, both across the state and in North Central Washington and Chelan and Douglas (counties). Our case rate is 59 per 100,000.” Wallace said. 

Wallace went on to say those levels have stayed consistent over two months, but trend up and down on a weekly basis. 

“For example, last week in Chelan County, we saw 53 new cases, and 29 new cases in Douglas County, whereas the week prior, we saw 26 cases, so almost a doubling in the past week. In Chelan County, it went from 36 cases two weeks ago to 29 cases this past week” Wallace said. 

Many cases go unreported simply because individuals who've contracted the virus do not require a trip to a clinic or hospital. Doctors say symptoms of Covid can be similar to those experiencing the flu or other illnesses.

Regardless of whether the actual case rate is low, high or in the middle for Chelan and Douglas counties, Wallace says some schools have canceled classes due to outbreaks. He says long term care facilities, businesses, health care partners are reporting outbreaks as well. 

Switching to respiratory illnesses of other types, Dr. Wallace says many people are staying home from work due to common colds, influenza, and Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV). Some of those employees missing work include medical employees, resulting in a shortage of personnel in clinics and hospitals. 

“But it's all better than what we saw in mid in early December. So, rhinovirus (common cold) is the most prevalent illness in the state of Washington. And by what we can tell, consistent in our region as well.” 

Perhaps more concerning is the opioid and fentanyl epidemic. Dr. Wallace says opioid deaths have increased 1,000% in the past six years. 

“Interestingly, an increasing number of those deaths are associated with psychostimulants as well, suggesting that the cocktail is becoming more and more complex, but really been driven by fentanyl and synthetic opioids, as prescribed medications and even heroin now is on a downturn.” Dr Wallace said. 

According to Wallace’s report, the number of opioid deaths in Washington State has increased 66% in the past three years, but he says the numbers may be low because of less tracking, less reporting, and less ability to follow during the height of the pandemic.  

“We still see higher rates of opioid prescribing in rural counties. Fewer prescribers that can guide a patient through treatment with Buprenorphine, less access to Naloxone in rural areas. And then to no surprise, (there are) fewer behavioral health and resources to support social determinants of health and help folks achieve and maintain recovery in rural areas.” Dr Wallace said. 

Naloxone is a medication approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) designed to rapidly reverse opioid overdose. Buprenorphine is FDA-approved for acute pain, chronic pain, and opioid dependence. 

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