A 34-year-old is among latest victims of COVID-19 in Clark County


Three deaths and 76 new cases have been reported since Thursday

CLARK COUNTY — Until this week, the last death related to COVID-19 was reported on June 22. 

Just since Thursday, three more deaths have been added to the total, including a 34-year old who passed away earlier in the week and apparently had no underlying health conditions.

Danh Tran, 34, died Tuesday of complications related to COVID-19. He reportedly had no underlying health conditions. Photo via Facebook
Danh Tran, 34, died Tuesday of complications related to COVID-19. He reportedly had no underlying health conditions. Photo via Facebook

In a July 8 post on Facebook, Tran’s fiance, Jessica Salamanca, wrote about Tran’s tragic death.

“To say I’m heartbroken doesn’t even begin to cover the surface,” she wrote. “My heart hurts, my body hurts, and I just want to wake up from this nightmare.”

The Clark County Medical Examiner’s office confirmed Tran died on July 7, and listed the cause of death as “acute respiratory illness” due to “Novel Coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19).”

In a Go Fund Me page for Tran’s burial expenses, Mark Woodford described Tran as “one of the most genuine, caring, real guys out there.”

“More than that he was a fiancé and soon to be the husband to his beloved Jessica,” Woodford wrote. “A father figure to her brother and now their worlds are shattered.”

The couple had planned to marry this Summer, but postponed to August of next year due to the pandemic. They had still intended to buy a house together, and were set to close on a place this week.

Danh Tran, who died this week of COVID-19, with his fiance, Jessica Salamanca. Photo via Facebook
Danh Tran, who died this week of COVID-19, with his fiance, Jessica Salamanca. Photo via Facebook

“This leaves my younger brother and I with no choice but to move out of our current residence,” wrote Salamanca, “as I cannot step foot in the door.”

There were few details about how Tran may have contracted the virus, or what led to his seemingly sudden death. Woodford noted that the death was unexpected, and had left friends and family of the 34-year-old feeling “shaken, saddened, and scared.”

“Most of the mortality we’re seeing with this disease is in older populations,” said Clark County Public Health Officer Dr. Alan Melnick on Thursday, “but it hits home that it can be a severe disease in young people as well.”

Two additional deaths Friday

On Friday, two more deaths were confirmed by Clark County Public Health, as well as 38 more confirmed cases, bringing the total to 32 deaths and 1,166 cases. Since Monday, the county has added 158 confirmed cases.

The latest graph showing the trend of COVID-19 in Clark County. Image via Clark County Public Health
The latest graph showing the trend of COVID-19 in Clark County. Image via Clark County Public Health

The latest deaths included a woman in her 50s, with an underlying health condition, and a man in his 80s. It was undetermined if that death included underlying medical issues.

Hospitalization rates remained largely unchanged Friday, with 20 confirmed cases and 12 suspected, comprising 5.1 percent of the occupied beds, with 32 of the county’s licenced hospital beds unused currently.

Protesters descend on Public Health building

A group of protesters led by People’s Rights Washington and Patriot Prayer marched to the Clark County Public Health building on Thursday afternoon, seeking answers to their questions.

Rob Anderson, who goes by the handle The Recovering Pastor on Facebook, helped put the protest together and says they believe the county has been dishonest with the information they’re putting out.

“For example, the county is not willing to detail or give out the underlying health concerns,” he said. “And the reason why that’s important is because how they define COVID death.”

Rob Anderson (left) at a rally against Clark County Public Health on Thursday. Also pictured are Joey Gibson of Patriot Prayer and Kelli Stewart of People’s Rights Washington. Photo via Facebook
Rob Anderson (left) at a rally against Clark County Public Health on Thursday. Also pictured are Joey Gibson of Patriot Prayer and Kelli Stewart of People’s Rights Washington. Photo via Facebook

Anderson believes the death toll likely includes people who’ve died of things unrelated to COVID-19, but are added to the total if they simply tested positive at some point.

Melnick confirms that their current practice is to report deaths involving a COVID-19 diagnosis as a “COVID associated death.”

Admittedly, that could include someone who had COVID-19 and died of a heart attack, but the state eventually reviews all death certificates and would remove any cases such as that.

“At this point in Clark County, the state has not removed any COVID associated deaths from the total,” Melnick noted. 

In fact, he said, it’s more likely that there are deaths earlier this year that were labeled as being caused by pneumonia which may have actually been due to COVID-19, so the current count may be low.

Clark County Public Health Officer Dr. Alan Melnick during a press conference in March. Photo by Mike Schultz
Clark County Public Health Officer Dr. Alan Melnick during a press conference in March. Photo by Mike Schultz

“Nobody’s out there to exaggerate the number of COVID-19 associated deaths,” Melnick adds. “We’re trying to be as accurate as we can about it.”

When Anderson and his group arrived at the county Public Health building shortly after 4 p.m. on Thursday, they found the building empty and the doors locked, plus extra security around the building.

“This is no way for a ‘Public’ Health Dept to operate,” he wrote in a letter to Clark County Chair Eileen Quiring following the protest.

Anderson and others who attended the protest say they also believe the county is being misleading in how it reports hospitalization data, alleging that most people who are admitted now are being tested for the virus, which could lead to inflated data about the situation.

“Someone could be in delivering a baby, have an aneurysm, cancer, whatever it is. Something that’s completely unrelated,” says Anderson. “And, based on their definition, the public thinks that they have COVID-19 or whatever.”

Melnick says there’s some truth to that, but they’re required to report the data.

“There’s a whole list of notifiable conditions, and COVID-19 is on the list,” Melnick says. “When a physician sees the lab has a positive test, or the hospital is aware of an admission with COVID-19, they’re required by law to report it.”

What they’re not required to report, Melnick adds, is whether the person is specifically in the hospital because of the COVID-19 infection.

In some ways it doesn’t matter, he adds, since someone with a positive COVID-19 diagnosis is going to need to be treated with similar precautions, including isolation and more use of PPE, which means they’re a similar drain on resources whether it’s a serious case of the illness or not.

On the issue of wearing masks, the protesters believe it is about enforcing compliance with a government mandate, not about a virus.

“We will not comply with lawlessness, we will not comply with abuse,” said Kelli Stewart during a Facebook livestream of their protest. “No way. That’s not the American spirit, that’s the Chinese spirit, and we are not Chinese, we are Americans. If they want compliance without anybody asking questions, then they better figure out a way to swap out flags.”

Melnick says, as someone who has studied infectious diseases for 30 years, it frustrates him to see a scientific issue become one centered around political ideology.

“One of the things that concerns me the most is we take something that’s a biological phenomenon, where we’re learning more about this disease, and it’s turned into some sort of political issue,” says Melnick. “Which it’s not. You know, we’re trying to prevent disease transmission.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has presented a unique challenge to health departments across the country at every level.

The system simply wasn’t designed to provide the level of contextual detail many people are currently demanding about this pandemic, Melnick says, especially when the levels of public skepticism are so high.

“We’re trying to be as accurate as possible with the science,” Melnick says, while admitting that there are complexities in doing so. “I do want people to wear masks, but I’m gonna be honest about what they do and what they don’t do. I’m not gonna say ‘you put on a mask and you’re 90 percent protected,’ because I don’t have evidence that it does that. But I do have evidence that putting on a mask substantially reduces your risk of passing the disease on to other people. That may not be as effective an argument, but it’s a truth.”

Obviously, the protesters don’t agree completely.

“It’s one thing when you’re dealing with people who, you know, ‘I’m answering your questions freely here,’” says Anderson. “But you get into situations where you have to ask the right way, in order to get the right answers, and if you don’t, you get kind of slippery answers.”

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About The Author

Chris Brown comes to Clark County Today with 15 years of local news experience as a reporter, editor, and anchor at KXL News Radio and KOIN-6 TV in Portland. In 2016, he won an Oregon Association of Broadcaster's award for Best Investigative Reporting for a series on America's Violent Youth. He has also been awarded by the Associated Press for Best Breaking News coverage as editor of Portland's Morning News following the 2015 school shooting at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon. The second oldest of eight home-schooled children, Brown graduated from high school two years early. After several odd jobs, he earned an internship at KXL Radio, eventually working his way into a full-time job. Brown has lived in Clark County his entire life, and is very excited at the opportunity to now focus full-time on the significant stories happening in his own back yard, rather than across “the river.’’ After a few years in Vancouver, he recently moved back to Battle Ground with his wife and two young daughters. When he's not working to report what's happening in Clark County, Brown enjoys spending time with his family, playing music, taking pictures, or working in the yard. He also actually does enjoy long walks on the beach, and sunsets.

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