County cases spiked in last two weeks
Okanogan County has suffered a catastrophic loss from COVID-19, which took the lives of 11 residents at North Valley Extended Care in Tonasket. Okanogan County Public Health (OCPH) announced the deaths in a press release on Monday (Nov. 30).
“OCPH sends their heartfelt condolences to the families who have lost their loved ones. Out of respect for the families, OCPH is not releasing further information about the deceased residents at this time. The 11 confirmed deaths brings Okanogan County’s total COVID-19 associated deaths to 26,” the press release said.
The outbreak at the long-term care facility was first reported in mid-November. In all, 32 residents contracted the virus, Public Health said. There were 38 people living at the facility, North Valley Hospital CEO John McReynolds said last week.
Numerous employees at Extended Care and at North Valley Hospital, which operates the facility, were also infected, and others have had to quarantine because of exposure to COVID. Two employees were hospitalized with COVID as of Nov. 30 and both are reportedly doing well, Public Health said.
“We have been inundated with offers and help and support. At this time the most important thing you can do is take the virus and precautions seriously,” North Valley Hospital said on its Facebook page. “As we hope to see the nursing home recover we are increasingly concerned about hospital capacity in the region. Our behavior today impacts the reality in the weeks to come.”
North Valley Extended Care underwent a routine infection-prevention survey following the outbreak. Officials confirmed that the team is managing the situation safely and professionally, Public Health said.
“Long-term care facilities serve our most vulnerable populations, whose age and health conditions put them at a higher risk for severe complications from COVID-19 and death. When community COVID-19 rates are high, such as those currently experienced by Okanogan County, long-term care facilities face increasing challenges to keep COVID-19 out of the facility,” Public Health said.
Cases on the rise
Infections are indeed spreading more widely throughout the county. The two-week incidence rate per 100,000 population has increased almost five-fold, from 53.8 on Nov. 15 to 257.4 on Nov. 29.
In the eight days ending Nov. 30, the county recorded 37 new COVID cases, including five in Twisp and four in Winthrop. That brings the total infections in Twisp to 15, and in Winthrop to 12, according to Public Health.
The rise in COVID cases is widely distributed across the state and among all age groups. At this rate, each individual with COVID is expected to infect about one and a half other people, meaning the disease will continue to spread, the state Department of Health (DOH) said.
The percentage of Washington residents with an active COVID infection is higher than during the peak in late March, DOH said.
In North Central Washington, almost 17% of acute-care hospital beds were occupied by COVID patients as of Nov. 30, according to DOH. That exceeds the goal of keeping that level under 10%. Twenty-three ICU beds were occupied, 12 by COVID patients.
Statewide, the number of patients hospitalized with COVID-19 doubled between Nov. 1 and Nov. 23, with the number in intensive care increasing by 75%. Public health officials are concerned that hospitals will need to postpone non-urgent surgeries and will have reduced ability to care for patients both with and without COVID-19, DOH said.
Labs and DOH were already overwhelmed with processing and reporting COVID tests results, and it’s too early for data to include any infections connected with travel and gatherings over the Thanksgiving weekend.
Okanogan County is conducting free community COVID testing this week. The Methow Valley School District is also offering free, voluntary testing of all students this week.
DOH hopes to have a COVID vaccine to begin administering by mid-December. The first vaccines will be given to high-risk workers in health care settings, based on protocols developed by DOH. The agency will release plans for subsequent vaccine phases in the coming weeks.
Two COVID vaccines, made by Pfizer and Moderna, appear to be highly effective and safe, based on vaccine trials. Both companies have applied for emergency-use authorization from the Food and Drug Administration.
The federal government is expected to provide about 262,400 doses of the Pfizer vaccine to Washington by the end of December, with regular weekly shipments beginning in January.
There is no estimate yet on shipment of the Moderna vaccine, DOH said.