Social distancing is recommended way to prevent COVID-19 spread
As the number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Washington topped 1,000 — and new cases have cropped up as close as Chelan County — local health care providers have instituted protective measures to keep their employees and the public healthy.
Okanogan County currently has no confirmed cases of the disease caused by the coronavirus, although 41 samples have been sent for testing. As of Tuesday (March 17), 13 of those have come back negative and the other 28 are pending, according to Okanogan County Public Health.
Medical professionals are repeating the now-familiar guidelines about the importance of avoiding large groups of people and keeping your distance from those you do see. “The research and disease transmission modeling is showing that we can slow the spread of the virus and reduce the number of people who get sick only by implementing the social distancing measures,” Public Health said.
All clinics and hospitals are asking anyone with symptoms consistent with coronavirus to call a hotline so a health care provider can advise about testing and treatment — and not to show up at the clinic or emergency room.
The Methow Valley Clinic in Winthrop has implemented measures to protect patients and the community at large, particularly those over age 65 or with chronic health conditions such as diabetes, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, asthma or heart disease, Physician Manager Michael Tuggy said on the Methownet bulletin board. “It is vital that we keep our clinic free of coronavirus as much as possible so we can continue to see patients,” he said.
Don’t go to the clinic
Anyone with a cold should stay home and treat it with over-the-counter medications, and not go to the clinic or work. Colds and most cases of coronavirus will resolve on their own in a week to 10 days, Tuggy said.
Anyone with an illness that grows increasingly severe over the first five days (fever, cough, shortness of breath), should call the Confluence hotline or the Washington Department of Health to arrange appropriate care and testing. These individuals should not go to their local clinic.
“Practice social distancing — call or FaceTime your friends for the next month. If you do visit people, be sure no one at the gathering has cold symptoms. The more we isolate the virus, the more we limit the spread,” Tuggy said.
Confluence Health has suspended elective surgical procedures and routine-care visits for six weeks, starting Tuesday (March 17). Urgent surgeries necessary to protect and maintain an individual’s health, such as appendectomies and setting broken bones, are not affected.
Most in-person routine care has also been curtailed at Confluence. Health care providers will determine when a patient will be best served by an in-person appointment.
Aero Methow prepared
Aero Methow Rescue Service has beefed up its normal protocols and procedures to contain the virus, Director of Services Cindy Button said.
It’s standard practice to disinfect ambulances after every call, but Aero Methow also has a designated ambulance for people who meet criteria for COVID-19, Button said. “We work in a world full of germs on a daily basis. We want to make sure this bug doesn’t go anywhere,” she said.
Aero Methow’s EMTs wear personal protective equipment for all calls and have full-body gear when working with anyone suspected of having COVID-19. The county’s 911 dispatchers are asking additional questions to advise first responders, Button said.
Aero Methow is currently well equipped with protective gear and has ordered more gear in case the situation escalates, Button said.
Methow Ready, Aero Methow’s division that focuses on community preparedness, is reinforcing networking among neighbors. Sharing supplies like aspirin, Pepto-Bismol or milk with neighbors keeps people from having to go to the store or feeling a need to hoard supplies, Button said.
“Remember, when you overbuy, those things are taken away from your neighbors and others who need them,” Public Health said.
Aero Methow and Methow Ready — in conjunction with Room One — also assist with mental health needs, such as stress management and coping with fear and anxiety, Button said.
Confluence Health now has a drive-through testing site in Wenatchee for people who have been pre-screened. People who have symptoms consistent with COVID-19 must call Confluence’s COVID hotline to speak with a nurse, who will determine if a test is indicated.
The drive-through site protects the safety of other patients and employees and provides privacy and expediency, said Clint Strand, a communications staffer for Confluence Health.
Testing is regularly covered by insurance but if a patient finds the test isn’t covered, Confluence will ensure that a person gets tested without financial hardship, he said.
Washington State Department of Health: 1-800-525-0127, 6 a.m. to 10 p.m., seven days a week. Info about the coronavirus, testing.
Confluence Health: (509) 663-8711, hotline for testing, other appointments.
Okanogan County Emergency Management: www.okanogandem.org. Get COVID-19 updates and sign up for emergency alerts (about health issues, natural disasters and other emergencies).
Aero Methow: 997-4013
Protect yourself and others
People at higher risk of severe illness should stay home and away from large groups of people as much as possible.
- people age 60 and above
- people with chronic medical conditions such as heart disease, lung disease or diabetes
- people with weakened immune systems
- pregnant women
Everyday preventive actions:
- stay home when sick
- cover your cough and sneezes with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash
- wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds; if unavailable, use hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol
- avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands
- clean frequently touched surfaces and objects at least daily
Source: Okanogan County Public Health