Vancouver, WA — The Building Industry Association of Clark County (BIA) reports an increase of 66 percent in townhome permit issuance from 2019 to 2020 in Clark County. In 2019, the total number of permits issued was 62 whereas in 2020 the number of townhome permits was 103. While townhome permits rose, single-family home permit activity saw a slight dip of about 12.8 percent between 2019 and 2020.

This could signal an emphasis on building to meet the “missing middle” (a range of multi-unit or clustered housing types, compatible in scale with detached single-family homes) and tackle the crisis of housing affordability. According to the National Association of Home Builders, it is called the “missing middle” for two reasons: 1) due to its scalability; and 2) its ability to deliver affordable housing options to middle-income households.

While an increase in rents charged remain unchanged for a majority of 2020 due to the COVID-19 Eviction Moratorium, no protections are offered for those moving into the area or switching housing options. Though landlords cannot raise rents on existing tenants, they can raise the price per unit when advertising a vacancy. With the current state of interest rates, mortgages are often in-line with, or less than the cost of renting. The BIA commends the builders building to meet the “missing middle” so that homeownership can become a reality for more Clark County residents.

While the BIA is ecstatic to report the great news on the housing affordability front, seeing a slight decline in the number of permits issued in the single-family segment of the home building market is disappointing considering the demand for such dwellings. Clark County is experiencing a housing inventory shortage across price-points, with less than a one month supply available. It is not surprising that home prices increase with a historically low supply and high demand. Therefore, the BIA recommends an emphasis on building homes at all price-points in 2021 so as not to contradict the efforts made on the housing affordability front.

Clark County

Clark County, WA — As parents and students of the Class of 2021 in Clark County and throughout the region navigate a school year without in-class instruction and the normal activities that come with a senior year one Vancouver parent sprang into action and created a fun and innovative Facebook group called “Adopt a 2021 Senior Clark County, Wa”

“Essentially, this is a way to provide seniors with something special so they can have some positive memories,” said Dionna Hickox, of Vancouver. “It’s a way to make it special. It’s not an ideal year for them. It stinks they are missing out on their senior year, and a friend in the mid-West asked if our county has this adopt-a-senior program. They can be adopted and supported. My son (a senior at Skyview) just received two cards in the mail.” 

How does it work?

A parent, guardian, or even a senior will make a post on this Facebook group on what they’re like, what they want in the future. The original post will say “not adopted” and if a member of the group wants to adopt the child, and if you’re comfortable with the person you can give them your address to send cards or words of encouragement. Then once the senior is adopted, they will have a sponsor, and the post will change to “adopted.”

“I’m finding that people are getting adopted quickly, they’re finding a match to support,” said Hickox.

What are people doing?

“I just started it last week,” she said. “My son got a gas card, and a Subway gift card with words of encouragement. We’re in the infancy stage so it’s early to tell what will really happen.”

It’s a public group. The parent or student is the gatekeeper and they will be able to make decisions on who they communicate with. 

“I find a lot of Camas people enjoying the group, but there’s a lot of support at Skyview, as well,” she said. “We are encouraging the students to get the word out. I have another friend whose daughter attends Fort Vancouver, so we’re trying to expand.”

To participate, go to Facebook and search for ‘Adopt a Senior — Clark County, Wa’ to join. 

Winter wear at
Maddox Hickox, a Skyview senior.

This is the first part of a two-part Question and Answer session with Dr. Alan Melnick, MD, MPH, CPH, Director of Clark County Public Health, as he and his team manage the complexities and pressures of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Question 1: How is COVID-19 test data gathered daily?

We get data and test results in a variety of ways: From local providers within 24 hours (clinics, hospitals, labs, all of them) rolling in throughout the day and most send data electronically, some send via FAX, and those are rolling in throughout the day. We have a big team of nurses who do the investigating. The data comes in and we go through all of that daily. We are staffed seven days per week. We have about 24 nurses and five office assistants working each day. The nurses are calling cases to interview them and identify close contacts, and working on facility investigations (if we have multiple cases in a workplace, health care setting, long-term care facility, school, etc.). The office assistants are supporting the nurses.

In addition to those folks, we have teams that do contact notification. These are the people who call everyone who is identified as a close contact of a confirmed case, notify them of their exposure and give them instructions on quarantine. They also monitor those individuals who test positive during their isolation and close contacts during quarantine, by calling and/or texting every day. We contract with an organization, Public Health Institute, to provide these services. They are working seven days a week and have five teams with eight contact notifiers on each team.

We also have staff coordinating wraparound services (such as seeing if cases need rental assistance, groceries, etc.), epidemiologists and data analysts compiling our data, among others.

Question 2: Does Clark County track cases by ethnicity?

Yes, we do. There are disparities by ethnicity. Some are impacted more than others. 

Question 3: With the current cases per 100,000 that are in place do you foresee the possibility that we should look more at hospitalizations per 100,000? As the numbers currently stand getting kids back in the classroom appears nearly impossible.

We do look at hospitalizations and capacity. When COVID-19 activity increases in the community there is a lag time and there is a long incubation period. It can be as long as 14 days. So one of the things I’ve shown to our Board of Health is that kids are less likely to get sick than adults, so why are we concerned about schools? Not all kids do so well. Certainly kids can get sick, but number two the schools are not an island and kids have a congregate setting in a school. They take the infection home to their parents and grandparents. Schools are part of the community, and that will bleed out into transmissions. We see more of the disease in young adults. There are reports in Florida that the older population is in jeopardy. We had some cases involving young adults who are partying with each other and not practicing physical distancing or masking. The incubation lag time is 14 days. Then there could be more lag time before that and when they visit grandpa and grandma, after several weeks you can start seeing cases in older people. Once you get to that point, it’s the point of no return.

Dr. Alan Melnick, Director,
Clark County Public Health

We look at hospital utilization, but the number is creeping up slowly a bit. You also have to look at capacity in the nursing homes, and we are approaching capacity there. The hospitals have no place to discharge those patients if that happens. I’m concerned about that. We are entering the Fall where more people will be exposed indoors. I’ve got data on where people are exposed. I’m really concerned about nursing home facilities. I will want to take a look at nursing home capacity. This will be a new metric. We haven’t published it. These are the things that keep me awake at night. This is horrible. It’s all horrible. I’m speaking as a public official and physician, and there’s an incredible amount of logic applied to it, and it’s become political. It’s a recipe for disaster. When you go into a business and the masks use has become a statement of political stance. It’s similar to what we went through with the measles outbreak. Dealing with anti-science makes this political. The virus doesn’t care about our politics. COVID-19 is a top cause of death in the United States.

Question 4: After a person tests positive and then they go back in for subsequent tests so that they can go back to work, if those tests are positive also are they considered new positive cases?

A person is counted as a case once. They can have 10 positive lab results. 


Question 5: How is Mead School District near Spokane able to open up yet they’ve had more than double the COVID cases?

I listen to all perspectives also. Everyone who lives in Clark County is our constituent. So we have to listen to their perspectives. I can’t answer why Spokane is doing what they are doing. These state guidelines are recommendations. We have looked at the data, schools are not an island. We’ve looked at the metrics of not only cases per 100,000. We have considered the impact of the holidays. We decided as a group to delay to make sure the metrics are post three weeks Labor Day. We don’t want to open up to have to close again. They are bringing back special needs kids in small groups. The other thing is that we’ve had some cases in staff at some of the schools. We are putting out a dashboard about what is going on in the schools. We want to be proactive with parents. We have a vocal group pushing for reopening. It’s a complex discussion. We are trying to be as thoughtful as possible.

Question 6: Is the 25 cases per 100,000 metric that allows schools to open as normal even attainable before Spring 2020?

It depends. If people practice physical distancing and masking we can do it. We have it in our power to do something about this, but the poltical nature of this has inhibited us. We were there. The idea is to protect everyone else around us. COVID-19 is a disaster but it’s an opportunity for us to see what we can do to look out for our neighbors and co-workers, our kids. We have it in our power to protect us, and listen to the science, and make this less political. It’s a cloth, it’s a mask. Wear it.

Question 7: What is the COVID-19 recovery rate in Clark County?

For us, we’re not really tracking or categorizing cases as recovered because we interview cases and then we monitor those cases during the isolation period. We check in with them during the 14-day quarantine period. Beyond that we don’t have the bandwidth to verify recovery. We don’t follow up at the end of that isolation period. 

Question 8: When you submitted your application for Phase 3 you were confident the County was ready for that. Then we had an outbreak at a local business that derailed that and then the Governor put a pause on any variances statewide. Do you think the Governor’s approach is too draconian? Is his approach the correct one?

It’s the right approach. We wouldn’t be in this position if people would physically distance and use masks. Other countries are opening up. We need to be concerned about doing our share. The best answer to improve mental health is to mask up and social distance. We were in the moderate range and now we’re a 95.6 cases per 100,000. We were at 19.45 cases per 100,000 when we submitted that application in June, over 14 days. Take a look at our website and look at epi-curve. July 4 and Labor Day did us in. 

The remaining questions and answers will appear in Part 2. We will likely have more interviews with Dr. Melnick. Do you have any questions you’d like us to ask?