Grand Forks Public Health shifting to sustained public health response for COVID-19 in community
With low active case numbers, GFPH is continuing to work on strategies to mitigate COVID-19 in Grand Forks County
GRAND FORKS – As Grand Forks County experiences low COVID-19 case activity, Grand Forks Public Health is shifting its focus and response to determine how cases are translating to severe illness and hospitalizations in the community.
Along with the decline in cases, the shift comes as the North Dakota Department of Health has recently switched from providing daily COVID-19 reports to weekly reports , a switch that has changed the amount of information GFPH is receiving, though GFPH Epidemiologist Shawn McBride said GFPH has been able to utilize wastewater data to keep informed on COVID-19 cases circulating throughout the community.
“The wastewater data has been a reliable source with what we call a surveillance data, to let us know about the levels of COVID-19 that may be circulating in the community and understanding if our case data is matching what we might expect or if we may need to do more testing or something like that,” McBride said.
McBride said switching from daily reports to weekly reports hasn’t created any problems with not being able to track if there is a spike in cases at any point in the week as the active case count in Grand Forks County has remained low. McBride said GFPH is also able to internally see the number of cases per day.
The seven-day sum of new cases between April 8 and April 14 was 48 with three new cases being reported April 14. During that week 1.3% of staffed hospital beds were in use for COVID-19 patients.
Currently, GFPH’s strategy to mitigate COVID-19 in the community is shifting, “from a case prevention emergency response to a sustained public health response aimed at ensuring access to vaccinations, testing, treatments, and hospital care if needed now that we have more tools to reduce disease severity,” McBride said.
Quarantining for those exposed to the virus and isolation for those who test positive is still a “critical component” for limiting the spread in the community McBride said. While COVID-19 cases in Grand Forks are at a low level, GFPH recommends people continue testing if experiencing symptoms and staying home if they test positive.
McBride said other mitigation strategies include reducing exposure risks in indoor settings. This can include improving indoor air quality and ventilation, which has been shown to reduce COVID-19 exposure indoors. Being more vigilant of contact with people who are susceptible to serious illness from COVID-19 is another mitigation strategy.
GFPH is also making recommendations in line with the Centers for Disease Control’s measurement of COVID-19 community levels, which tracks the transmission levels in the community. To determine COVID-19 community levels, the CDC looks at new COVID-19 admissions per 100,000 people within the past seven days, the percent of staffed inpatient beds occupied by COVID-19 patients and the total new COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people in the past seven days.
Based on these three metrics the transmission level in a community can either be low, medium or high and the CDC provides different recommendations within each category to prevent the spread of the virus.
While Grand Forks is at a low transmission level, McBride said if the community faces high levels of transmission, a shift back toward an emergency case prevention strategy would be needed as access to treatment and hospital care would become limited once again. Though currently McBride said GFPH would prefer to not have to make broad, less targeted community decisions.
“We’re moving into a time where individuals, based on their own unique health history or health condition, are going to need to make decisions on what type of risks they’re comfortable taking,” McBride said.
As for vaccinations, McBride said GFPH saw an increase in vaccine activity when the CDC recommended immunocompromised people and anyone over the age of 50 receive their second booster. McBride said GFPH usually sees an uptick in vaccine activity whenever a booster is recommended.
While vaccination activity throughout the past few weeks has been higher, McBride said he is still hoping to see more people throughout the community get their first and second doses.
“I would like to see more progress being made on people who have yet to receive a vaccination,” McBride said. “We would love to see more uptake among those who have yet to complete their primary series.”