The data in the line graph above uses dates that the positive test results were reported to the News-Banner from the Wells County Health Department.
The data in the line graph above uses dates that the positive test results were reported to the News-Banner from the Wells County Health Department.

Wells County is not out of the woods when it comes to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Information released this week by the Wells County Health Department provides a snapshot of how COVID-19 is impacting the community.

Meanwhile, a News-Banner review of the timeline of how the disease has progressed locally in three months shows June has seen the most cases diagnosed by far.

Wells County Health Department Deputy Administrator Marlene Hoag said of the 68 positive cases reported in the county as of this week, at least 27 of them have shared the same address as someone else who has tested positive. She also said at least 10 patients have been hospitalized if only briefly.

During their June meeting, members of the county’s health board discussed their concerns about testing — how the county doesn’t have a site where people can go to get tested, reliability of those tests, issues with statistics when it comes to how many people out of the county’s total population have actually been tested, and the reliability of the statistics in general.

As the cases go up, it is getting more difficult to conduct contact tracing, Hoag said Thursday, because the health department must access two websites in order to put together a patient profile. That complete picture helps them identify the patient, which leads to contact tracing to determine whom the patient was in close proximity to and should therefore also get tested.

And while the state’s website is updated within 24 to 36 hours after a positive case is received, it could take the health department two days to access the information online to identify the patient to conduct the contact tracing.

Hoag said Thursday she will soon begin providing weekly updates on the county’s positive cases that are reported on the state’s site. She said it’s important to be transparent about the disease in the community, adding it’s time consuming to go through the state’s reports.

As the fight against the pandemic continues, she said they don’t know how long people are contagious and how long the window of symptoms is open before the disease will show up on a test.

Hoag said the department has had patients test negative one day and then a few days later show symptoms and test positive on a subsequent test.

“A negative test today doesn’t mean a negative test tomorrow,” she said.

Weekly progression

Wells County’s first case was reported by the state March 14. In the first two months, 16 cases were reported.

But from the week beginning May 17 through the week ending June 20, the case count more than quadrupled up to 65. Another three cases were reported this week as well.

Since mid-March, the county has had two different weeks when no new cases were reported. Another five separate weeks, between mid-March and late April, the county had one case reported per week.

More than 30 cases alone were reported in one two-week stretch from June 7 to June 20. As of June 15, state officials opened up testing for anyone. However, Hoag doesn’t think that is affecting Wells County’s numbers.

What they are seeing, she said Thursday, has to do with connections between families and colleagues: If someone in such a group tests positive, others seek testing as well.

She said some local employers are requesting testing and some have required a negative result before employees can return to work.

Currently there are no testing sites in Wells County, which became a topic of concern of the health board earlier this month. The county did have a state-operated drive-through testing site from May 14 to May 17, and those results have already been received and accounted for; 322 people were tested and at least two people tested positive as a result.

More than 1,400 of the county’s residents have been tested since March.

Hoag said people are choosing not to get tested because of the restrictions they would face if they test positive.

“A lot of people don’t want to find out whether or not they have it,” she said.

Gender and age

Of the 68 Wells County residents who have tested positive as of Friday, 32 are males and 36 are females, according to a break down provided this week by Hoag.

The hardest hit age groups are 51 to 60 and 61 to 70, where 31 total cases have been reported. An additional 21 cases have been reported from age 31-50, with another eight aged 11-30.

Two females under the age of 10 have tested positive, and one male and one female aged 81 to 90 have tested positive.

Health board talks COVID-19

During its first meeting during the pandemic, the Wells County Health Board spoke at length about COVID-19 earlier this month.

Wells County Public Health Officer Dr. Kay Johnson asked Public Health Nurse Lynn Blevins if he was confident in the reliability of the tests being given since there were some early tests that were not as reliable as health professionals would have liked.

“Some of the testing sites, they were giving the swabs to the patient to administer it themselves. Who wants to stick a swab in their nose?” Blevins said, adding that he hasn’t heard concerns of unreliable tests locally.

However, the quickness that people are working on tests and vaccines concerns Blevins as well.

“They are rushing to get this vaccine out, and it’s like, ‘How safe will it be?’” he said.

Johnson also brought up how small of an amount of the population has actually been tested for COVID-19. As of the June 18 meeting, just more than 1,000 people locally had been tested.

That’s out of a county population of about 28,000, which means only about 3.5 percent of the population has been tested.

“When you try to base your prevalence on that (the amount of people tested), it makes it seem falsely low,” Johnson said. She later added, “There’s a huge amount of infected people that we don’t know about because they haven’t been tested.”

Education should be impacted by that, Johnson said.

“Part of our education has to be making people understand that so that we can try to impact (the population),” she said.

One aspect of why it is important to stop the spread of COVID-19 has to do with community immunity, which is when a sufficient proportion of a population is immune to a contagious disease either through vaccination and or due to prior illness. With the seasonal flu, Johnson said about 60 percent of the population is immune.

“Zero percent of the population is immune to this,” she said.

Health board member Dr. Mary Donley said testing statistics aren’t necessarily reliable measures in general, depending on how you look at them.

“There is a bit of a fallacy about testing the population in general. You could have a negative test one day and be exposed and have a positive test the next day. You’re only looking at a snap shot in time,” she said. “I guess it’s better than nothing, but even those statistics aren’t really reliable either.”

Blevins said it would be interesting to have a huge push of antibody testing to see who has had the virus yet and who has not. However, there isn’t enough information of how long people will have antibodies in their systems and if that will even protect them from getting the virus again.

“Viruses mutate and they can change. It may give a false sense of security,” he said. “There’s still a tons of questions that we don’t have answers to.”

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