Northeast Tri-County Health District: There have been more COVID deaths this month than in all of 2020

There have been more COVID-19 deaths this month across Stevens, Ferry and Pend Oreille Counties than there were in all of 2020. 

The Northeast Tri-County Health District held a briefing Friday addressing the alarming statistics coming out of its area.

A recent outbreak at the Pinewood Nursing Home led to 74 people contracting COVID. Of those, 22 were staff members and 33 included breakthrough cases. Five people died, including one person who was fully vaccinated. 

RELATED: COVID-19 outbreak at Colville nursing home kills 5, infects 74

Despite this, the overwhelming majority of new cases and deaths are happening in unvaccinated people. In each of the three counties, 86 percent of new cases are in people who have not received a COVID-19 vaccine. 

The latest data show 35 people have died of COVID this month already. There were 29 total COVID deaths in all of 2020.

The age group with the greatest COVID growth, however, is 10 to 19-year-olds. 

“Schools are doing a tremendous job of doing their very best under trying circumstances where most all are experiencing cases that are coming into schools from outside exposures,” said health district administrator Matt Schanz. 

This includes a lot of their own testing, which could be one reason they are detecting the increase in that age group. 

As the region deals with this steep increase, small rural hospitals are dealing with the threat of the impending vaccination proclamation that goes into effect on October 18. 

RELATED: ‘We truly don’t have beds at times’: Rural hospitals struggle to keep up with COVID surge

“We have concerns about staffing across our organization. It’s all of it,” said Christina Wager, Chief Operations Officer for Newport Hospital and Health Services. 

Governor Jay Inslee has requested staffing from the federal government. While they wait to hear the outcome of that, local health leaders are urging people to seek care if they need it. 

“If they feel like they’ve been pushing through it and suddenly decline, they need to seek care,” said Jenny Smith, Marketing and Foundation Director for Newport Hospital and Health Services. “Extremely, extremely important. We are here for them.” 

“We do know of situations where people have passed away en route to care,” Wager said. 

Dr. Sam Artzis, who has been in the thick of it, says that while the public can count the case rates, they can’t count the suffering that comes from those. 

“It’s heartbreaking. We’re just kind of numb to it now,” Artzis said. 

He is urging the community to be deliberate about the information they trust. 

“Think about the people that are spreading the false information,” Artzis said. “I would ask yourself before you even read that information: Are they a practicing physician or do they have skin in the game? 98 percent of them are sitting at home, never treated a COVID patient, never dealt with COVID in an intimate way, and have not seen the pain and suffering it causes.” 

Meanwhile, another big concern is the upcoming flu season. Health leaders said there was not much influenza last year because people were masking and taking precautions. However, the climate has changed since then, so they are once again asking people to do their part by masking up. 

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READ: ‘We really need to create a little bubble of protection’: CDC, local doctor recommends flu shot by end of October