Most have recovered; testing continues
Okanogan County has reported five new cases of COVID-19 since April 6, bringing the total to 14. Ten of the individuals have fully recovered, but one remains hospitalized, Okanogan County Community Health Director Lauri Jones said on Tuesday (April 14).
When the number of cases in the county doubled within just four days, county health officials were very concerned, but haven’t seen that rapid increase again, Jones said.
Five of the cases in the county are in people over the age of 60 and four in people between 40 and 59, according to the Washington Department of Health (DOH). There are also several individuals under 19, some of whom were basically asymptomatic and, with just “a bit of a cough for a day,” Jones said.
Five of the confirmed cases are in the Methow Valley, seven on the Colville Reservation, one in the South County (from Malott to Pateros), and one in the North County (from Riverside to Oroville).
Health workers have tested 345 people in the county and are still awaiting results on 36 tests. Although testing is becoming more widely available, Okanogan County Public Health still advises people that the virus is most likely circulating throughout the county and that not all cases will be reflected in tests. About 5% of the tests in Okanogan County have come back positive.
Okanogan County is fortunate that there haven’t been any COVID outbreaks in long-term care facilities or nursing homes, enabling health officials to secure those facilities to protect residents and staff, Jones said.
COVID-19 data lead health professionals to believe that spread of the disease in eastern Washington is two to three weeks behind western Washington, which experienced the first cases in the country. Okanogan County has been working in conjunction with the rest of Eastern Washington to determine when it will be safe to start relaxing the stay-at-home order and to reopen commerce and other activities.
There were 10,538 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 516 deaths in Washington as of April 12. Statewide, the age group most with the most confirmed cases (35%) is 40 to 59, but the majority of deaths have been in people over 80, according to DOH.
Although 52% of cases have been in females, males account for 57% of deaths. The majority of cases have been in non-Hispanic whites (56%), followed by Hispanics (24%), according to DOH.
Three Rivers Hospital in Brewster and Mid-Valley Hospital in Omak have isolation rooms and are caring for anyone in the county who needs hospitalization for COVID-19 but doesn’t require the more intensive care that would necessitate transfer to Central Washington Hospital in Wenatchee. Because North Valley Hospital in Tonasket is connected with a long-term care facility, they aren’t treating patients with COVID-19. Central Washington Hospital has about 50 ventilators, Jones said.
Okanogan County has set up an isolation center for people who have tested positive but are not comfortable caring for themselves at home, or who have concerns about exposing other people in their household.
Through a grant from the state Department of Commerce, Okanogan County Community Action Council has coordinated with Motel Nicholas in Omak to quarantine people who are awaiting test results, Jones said.
Testing capacity is growing. Confluence Health had about 1,200 test kits last week, and they’re providing them to clinics throughout North Central Washington. Results are generally available within 48 hours, they said.
A new report by the Bellevue-based Institute for Disease Modeling suggests physical distancing efforts have been slowing the transmission of COVID-19 in King, Snohomish, and Pierce counties. But the distancing efforts and Gov. Jay Inslee’s stay-at-home order must remain in place to prevent a rebound in cases and deaths, according to the State Joint Information Center, which is handling coronavirus information for Washington.
“If we let our guard down early, the virus will explode all over again,” Mike Tuggy, physician manager of the Methow Valley Clinic, said in an update on the Methownet bulletin board.
Public Health and local clinics are urging everyone to wear a mask for essential activities such as shopping — in addition to maintaining 6 feet of distance — because of the high number of people who carry the disease but have no symptoms.
If someone has no symptoms, wearing a mask protects your family and community. And if someone is exposed to the virus, the mask reduces the risk of contracting it, Tuggy said.
West coast pact will guide return to ‘normal’
Washington State entered into a pact with Oregon and California to plan for the gradual resumption of commerce and social activities on Monday (April 13). The governors of the three states committed to “a shared approach for reopening our economies — one that identifies clear indicators for communities to restart public life and business.”
“Health outcomes and science — not politics — will guide these decisions,” Washington Gov. Jay Inslee said in an announcement of the pact. To successfully lift the current interventions, the states will need a system for testing, tracking, and isolating new cases, he said.
Any modifications to the states’ stay-at-home orders will be based on the direct impact of COVID-19, of measures introduced to control the disease, and on the ability of health care systems to care for those with COVID-19 and other conditions.
“This effort will be guided by data. We need to see a decline in the rate of spread of the virus before large-scale reopening, and we will be working in coordination to identify the best metrics to guide this,” Inslee said.
The pact commits to protecting vulnerable populations, ensuring adequate hospital capacity and personal protective equipment, and mitigating other impacts on disadvantaged communities.