COVID cases on the rise in Okanogan County
With Okanogan County seeing a spike in COVID cases, many local health care facilities are still requiring masks, particularly for people with respiratory symptoms, despite the expiration of the state mask mandate on Monday (April 3).
At Three Rivers Hospital in Brewster, patients with symptoms of respiratory illness will be asked to wear a mask, cover their cough, and wash or sanitize their hands to prevent the spread of infection, Business Development Coordinator Jennifer Best said.
Three Rivers staff and providers will wear masks during patient care, as is standard practice, Best said. Employees and providers who are sick, especially with a fever, are asked to isolate at home.
Mid-Valley Hospital in Omak has lifted its universal mask mandate, but the hospital is still requiring masks in certain situations, in accordance with guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Patients who exhibit symptoms of respiratory illness who refuse to mask will not be denied care, but will receive education and counseling about the importance of masking and the risks and consequences of not masking, according to hospital policy issued last week. Patients will be offered reasonable accommodations.
Masking is required for visitors at Mid-Valley who have symptoms of respiratory illness. Those who refuse to mask will not be able to enter the facility.
Masks are strongly recommended for all community members, particularly those with respiratory symptoms. People who’ve had close contact or a high-risk exposure to someone with COVID should mask for 10 days after the exposure or onset of symptoms, Mid-Valley said.
The county’s hospitals and clinics are in regular consultation with one another and with Okanogan County Health Officer James Wallace to determine appropriate measures, Mid-Valley CEO John White said.
At Confluence Health, masking is optional for patients and visitors, although masks are still recommended to protect the most vulnerable patients. Masks are still required in clinical and public areas for staff and medical providers, Confluence Health said in its policy update last week. Confluence Health operates Central Washington and Wenatchee Valley hospitals and clinics throughout the region, including the Methow Valley Clinic in Winthrop.
Confluence expects additional guidance from state and federal health care authorities over the next few weeks, which their leadership team will use to tailor masking policy as needed, Chief Medical Officer Jason Lake said.
At Family Health Centers (FHC) clinics, staff will be required to wear masks in clinical areas. FHC recommends that patients mask while in the clinic, but no patients will be turned away or refused service if they decide not to mask, according to the policy FHC adopted last week.
“We appreciate the understanding and cooperation we’ve received from our hospital district residents. The past three years have been long and challenging for everyone, so it means a lot when the community is united with us in protecting others’ health and safety,” Best said.
COVID in county
COVID cases in Okanogan County were above 210 per 100,000 in March, a rate that hasn’t been seen in a long time, Community Health Director Lauri Jones told the county commissioners last week.
While the number of infections has been high, most cases are not severe, Jones said. There have been two COVID outbreaks in long-term care facilities and all residents recovered, including one who was 101, she said.
Still, hospitalizations and emergency department visits for COVID have increased, and the county recorded the first two deaths in 2023 from COVID in early March, Wallace told the Board of Health at its March meeting. The people who died were over 40 years old. People over 65 and those with co-morbidities are at greater risk of severe illness, he said.
Accurate counts of COVID cases are difficult to come by because many people use home tests, but clinics and hospitals have reported a significant rise in cases. Wastewater testing in Brewster also showed a notable uptick, Wallace said.
Three Rivers tested 81 people for COVID in March and there were 10 positives. Six people had sought treatment in the emergency department and two were hospitalized, Best said.
Many interventions are available for people with COVID, including the antiviral drug Paxlovid, which reduces the severity of symptoms when taken early. Support services such as delivery of groceries and other essentials through Care Connect Washington are available for people who are isolating, Wallace said.
The incidence of respiratory illnesses such as flu and RSV remains low, Wallace said.
The Washington Department of Health (DOH) ended the mask mandate for health care, long-term care, and adult correctional facilities as of April 3. DOH noted that masks remain an important tool, along with vaccinations, to keep people healthy and safe, and recommended that patients, providers and visitors continue to use facial coverings.