Douglas County proposes that state add 'severity index' for tracking COVID-19

The proposal is part of the county's new mitigation plan for pandemic

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As part of a plan to reduce COVID-19 infections, Douglas County has proposed a new way for the state to track transmissions of the virus.

The “severity metric” would serve as a two-tier measure, factoring in both incidence rates and hospitalization incidence rates to determine how many restrictions a county should have in place.

At present, the state considers incidence rates, test positivity rates and whether or not hospitalizations are increasing in a county when looking at if a state should be in one of five phases, including the “Safer at Home” and “Protect Our Neighbors” phases. Douglas County is currently in the “Level 1 Safer at Home” phase, according to the state’s dial framework.

Dr. John Douglas, executive director of Tri-County Health Department, helped develop the severity metric, which he said makes more sense to him because it looks at the magnitude of case increases.

“Douglas County right now is an outlier in that hospitalizations rates are starting to go up across the state … so far that’s not really happening in Douglas County,” Douglas said. “To me, (the metric) allowed reality to be part of the process.” 

If the state decides to include the metric moving forward it will work like this: Counties with both an incidence rate of up to 100 cases per 100,000 residents and a two-week hospitlization rate of six or less will be able to enter the “Protect Our Neighbors” phase, which is the most lenient phase. 

If the county has an incidence rate of 125 cases per 100,000 residents and a two-week hospitlization rate of three or less, it can also enter the “Protect Our Neighbors” phase. 

Counties will remain in level “Safer at Home Level 1” if the incidence rate is 125 per 100,000 people and the two-week hospitalization rate is six or less. They will also remain in that level if their incidence rate is up to 150 and the two-week hospitalizations is three or less.

The proposal is a part of the county’s latest mitigation plan, which it was required to create after cases began to increase in the county. The document, released Oct. 12, also includes plans for continued COVID-19 testing and increased public education messages about masking, hand washing and other means to decrease the spread of the disease.

Douglas said he hopes to see the severity metric adopted by the state.

“A statewide severity adjusted metric would be useful,” he said. “Ideally, I’d like to see them consider this more broadly.”

County Commissioner Roger Partridge added that when he’s spoken to other commissioners in the state, he’s gotten feedback that other counties would also like to see this measure put in place.

“I think there needs to be an emphasis on severity,” he said. “It’s time for the government to adapt and pay attention to the severity as a metric so we can provide the public with the best possible direction.”

Douglas said he believes the recent surge in cases is in part due to private gatherings at people’s homes.

“We know you’re sick and tired of COVID,” he said. “It’s still really important that you do these things … your health, your family's health, your community's health and your community's capacity to … remain open, depends on this.”

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