ENTERPRISE — Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, members of the Winding Waters Clinic staff have been in constant contact with community members who not only had contracted the virus, but also those who were close contacts — even if they didn’t become sick.
Winding Waters CEO Nic Powers said the daily, consistent outreach has always been in the protocol from Oregon Health Authority, but the Wallowa County providers — who took the lead on contact tracing and investigating with the help of the Center for Wellness — have been able to give that support to the community better than most other counties in Oregon.
“When specifically a case came up, one of our providers and an OHA epidemiologist would talk about that case and how to handle both isolation and quarantine,” Powers said. “Our provider would do the case investigation and contact tracing.”
Through Monday, Dec. 28, there have been 76 reported cases of COVID-19 in Wallowa County, a touch more than 1% of the county population.
“It is the state protocol and expectation that as much as possible we’ll follow up with close contacts. When cases surge, it’s impossible to keep up,” Powers said. “Because things have been, in COVID terms, better here, we’ve been able to follow up better.”
As much as it can, Winding Waters has been in touch with each individual who has tested positive for COVID-19 in the county or who has been in close contact with a confirmed case. These individuals have received not only a daily call throughout their quarantine and/or isolation — calls done to check on symptoms and, often morale — but also help from the staff to deliver supplies, if needed.
“I got the privilege of making hundreds of calls,” said Glenn Smith, a community health worker for Winding Waters.
Smith said in making those calls and checking on people, health workers get to see the entire spectrum of emotions experienced by those in lockdown.
“When you are calling people daily, you get to see the kind of curve (they ride),” he said.
In the early stages of a quarantine, individuals are not as dire and down. That, though, changes, and the providers try to help patients work through the trial.
“... For a few days (near the midway point) they are a little more grumpy and a little less receptive. Toward the end they can see the light at the end of the tunnel, (and) their mood changes again,” he said.
Smith said there have been days where providers have contacted around 70 people, and the callers indeed get to see that “everybody is in a different part of that curve.”
Powers said staff members have gone as far as to deliver much-needed items to those who are shut in, including everything from thermometers, prescriptions and pulse-oximeters, to groceries and even grain supplies from Wallowa County Grain Growers.
“People get caught off guard,” Smith said.
Requests also have included items intended to bring more comfort.
“We had one case where they were really hesitant, but (then asked) ‘Could you pick us up a box of licorice?’” Smith said. “I’ve been on every aisle in the grocery store.”
The contact calls not only have been well received by most and beneficial, but Powers is confident the outreach has helped keep the number of cases — and the size of outbreaks — lower.
Powers specifically spoke about the Wallowa School outbreak in late October and early November that sickened close to 10 people. The combination of outreach and how the school district handled the situation, he said, kept it under control.
“I definitely know the outreach helped,” he said. “The school took it very seriously, the individuals who were sick took it seriously. It helped that we were checking in on people. It was really important to containing that outbreak.”