First District County Commissioner Tim Brinker

After more than two months without a fatality, COVID-19 deaths in Franklin County have increased by two in the past week.

The most recent death, a 74-year-old woman from Pacific was reported Thursday, following the death of a 77-year-old Washington man Aug. 11.

Before this week, the last reported COVID-19-related death in Franklin County was June 9, when a 71-year-old man from Luebbering lost his life due to the virus.

In addition to the new death, 17 new cases were reported Friday, bringing the county total to 816, an increase of 310 since Aug. 1.

As COVID-19 cases in Franklin County near 1,000, Presiding Commissioner Tim Brinker said health officials are focusing on educating the public to reduce the spread by distributing signs to municipalities and businesses encouraging residents to wear masks, social distance and hand washing.

Brinker said the advertising campaign will be countywide and will target any hot spots as they happen. It will be paid for with a portion of the $12.1 million in CARES funds Franklin County received from the state and federal governments.

Since the end of June, COVID-19 cases in Franklin County have quadrupled for 205 to the current total of more than 800.

“There are going to be more deaths, and there are going to be more cases,” Brinker said. “This is something that is not going to magically be zeroed out. It is a virus. It’s going to run through no matter what actions we take. Our goal is to minimize impact and protect our most vulnerable.”

Brinker said despite a cluster of deaths at long-term care facilities here early on in the pandemic, one of the keys to death rates remaining low are better treatments. “Both Mercy and BJC have developed better treatment techniques,” he said. “Every week and month that goes by, it is being dealt with better. People are resilient and many of the more recent cases have been younger to middle aged residents.”

Brinker attributes the recent spike in cases to more testing being available and community spread of the virus.

Meanwhile, Brinker is steadfast in his stance against a county mandate on face coverings.

“From a Constitutionalist perspective, my biggest fear is losing freedoms,” Brinker said. “We as a country have dealt with things like this for centuries and learned to overcome them. There have been more resources thrown at this than any other issue in history and at a faster rate. I firmly believe in people’s logic and common sense.”

Last summer, in the midst of the hepatitis A outbreak, the Franklin County commission voted unanimously to require vaccines for all foodservice workers in an effort to stop the spread.

Franklin County led the state in hepatitis A cases in 2019 with more than 80, leading to several businesses being shut down when employees were infected.  At a Washington City Council meeting Wednesday, a city mask mandate was voted down after a 4-4 tie was decided by Mayor Sandy Lucy.

Ward 4 Councilwoman Gretchen Pettet said it was interesting the county commission mandated vaccinations last summer, but are against a mask mandate now.

“It is very different in a lot of aspects compared to a mask. It’s comparing apples and oranges,” Brinker said. “The hep A vaccine was 100 percent effective. We knew exactly who to administer it to. You know you have hep A and no one who has it is asymptomatic.”

Current COVID-19 hospitalizations in Franklin County have remained low with only eight reported this week.

Brinker is concerned about the upcoming flu season further straining resources, although he said it has been proven that COVID-19 precautions also limited the spread of influenza early this spring.

In late March as the 2019-2020 flu season was winding down, there was a significant drop in cases in the three-week stretch.

“One week there were 285 flu cases reported in Franklin County, that dropped to 131 in a week, then all the way down to 24 the next week,” Brinker said.