A Gonzaga-affiliated Spokane County resident tested negative for COVID-19, the Spokane Regional Health District confirmed Thursday evening.
It is the only known person in the county who has been tested so far, and Spokane County has no confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus at this time.
While the risk to Spokane County for COVID-19 remains low, according to a news release from the health district, state officials confirmed Thursday the first case of COVID-19 east of the Cascades. That positive case came in a Grant County resident who is in critical condition at a Wenatchee hospital.
State officials also reported Washington’s 11th death from the coronavirus and said 70 total cases are confirmed statewide. All but the Grant County case are in King and Snohomish counties.
The results for the Spokane and Grant county patients came after a delay in testing in Eastern Washington.
The Spokane County resident was tested on Saturday, but the health district did not receive results until Thursday evening. And the Northeast Tri-County Health District still has not received test results for a Stevens County resident.
Concerns about that patient have resulted in the Colville School District closing all schools for three days this week for disinfection, before reopening Thursday. The person who was tested, as well as their close contacts, are in isolation awaiting test results.
Initially, state health officials claimed the Shoreline lab could turn tests around quickly. But Thursday, a spokeswoman for the Department of Health acknowledged there is a backlog for tests at the state lab, which they expect to be corrected by Friday.
Some of the pressure on the Shoreline lab was eased Thursday when the University of Washington began testing samples, including that of the Grant County patient whose case was confirmed.
That patient has no travel history outside of the country, a release from Grant County Health District stated, indicating the disease could have been acquired locally. Close contacts of the patient have been asked to quarantine, the health district’s release said.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention loosened guidelines to test patients for COVID-19 this week to include patients showing symptoms without travel histories or known close contact to confirmed cases. That will lead to an increase in testing in the coming weeks.
State health officials emphasized not everyone will need to be tested and that testing should be prioritized for those at higher risk for severe illness. Those most at-risk include people over the age of 60, those with chronic health conditions or weakened immune systems, and pregnant women.
Symptoms of COVID-19 include a fever, cough and difficulty breathing. Health officials have asked people experiencing those symptoms to call their health care provider first before going to a doctor’s office or emergency department.
“I understand the desire for people who are currently sick to want to be tested for COVID-19, but from the personal health perspective, you really don’t need to be tested,” Kathy Lofy, Washington state health officer, said at a news conference Wednesday. “We do not have medications to treat COVID-19 infection, so whether or not you test positive or negative, the management, your provider’s medical management, will be the same.”
About 80% of people with COVID-19 have mild to moderate symptoms and can take care of themselves at home in quarantine, according to health officials, but for those with underlying health conditions, the respiratory disease can be deadly.
State officials offer advice, action
When Vice President Mike Pence, who is leading the country’s response to the COVID-19 outbreak, arrived in Washington state Thursday evening to meet with Gov. Jay Inslee about the the virus’ spread, they avoided handshakes in favor of elbow bumps.
That greeting was an example of the governor practicing what he and other state officials have been preaching – namely, that people avoid contact that may transfer the virus.
To prevent COVID-19’s spread, health officials are encouraging Washington residents to stay home when sick, practice good hand hygiene, cover coughs and sneezes, and refrain from touching their eyes, nose and mouth.
Inslee is also advising Washington residents to avoid gatherings of more than 10 people that could be considered “nonessential.”
“It’s something we want people to consider. This is not an order,” he said.
But if conditions warrant it, Inslee does have the authority under state law to issue such an order.
The benefits of an order would have to outweigh the disruptions to the economy and personal freedom, Inslee said.
The governor said the state will require insurance companies operating in Washington to waive co-pays and deductibles for COVID-19 testing. For people without insurance, the state will cover the costs of testing.
A person who has to go out of their health insurance’s network to see a health care provider must be charged at the same rate as an in-network visit, state Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler said.
Workers compensation payments will also be available for health care workers and first responders who are unable to work because they are placed in quarantine after being exposed to COVID-19 while on the job. The state is also looking at the unemployment compensation system for aid to people who are laid off by actions to contain the virus.
Testing kits are limited, Inslee, said, but a person who is experiencing mild symptoms should take the same precautions and stay home from work, wash hands frequently and avoid family members as much as possible.
Right now, any decision to close a school has been deferred to local school officials, he said.
Lawmakers in Olympia approved $100 million in funding from the state’s reserves this week to help boost statewide efforts to combat COVID-19. Congress passed a multibillion-dollar supplemental spending package to address the COVID-19 outbreak as well as research for treatment and vaccines, which now heads to the president’s desk.
Local Catholic churches take precautions
Spokane’s Catholic diocese is taking Inslee’s advice. In a message to parishioners this week, Bishop Thomas Daly announced steps aimed at limiting physical contact in church.
Those steps include suspending the sign of peace – the time during Mass when parishioners greet one another with hugs, handshakes and the phrase “Peace be with you.”
“Although it is likely the infection will continue to spread, experts still indicate the risk of this new virus to the general public remains low. Vigilance is nonetheless warranted,” Daly said.
Priests will be encouraged to wash their hands before giving Holy Communion, and they will refrain from distributing wine representing the blood of Jesus Christ during the ceremony, Daly said.
“This might also provide a catechetical opportunity to remind the faithful that reception of the sacred host is indeed reception of the body, blood, soul and divinity of Christ,” he said.
Additionally, churches will drain any fonts containing holy water and clean those vessels frequently.
“If the font is dry, encourage parishioners to make the sign of the cross upon entering and exiting the church,” Daly said.
Beyond that, parishioners should consult CDC recommendations, stay home if they feel sick and practice “common-sense” hygiene, Daly said.
Daly said the diocese’s coronavirus measures will remain in place until the Holy Week before Easter, at which time the diocese will reevaluate the outbreak.
He said Katie Rieckers, the director of local Catholic schools, has been meeting with principals to draft prevention and response protocols in consultation with the Spokane Regional Health District.
Reporter Chad Sokol contributed to this story.
Spokane County PUI tests negative for COVID-19.
- Public health expert warns virus not going away – KSAT San Antonio
- Tesla asks employees to resume production at Fremont car plant despite coronavirus health orders – CNBC
- Major health groups and charities urge Trump to reverse World Health Organization funding decision – CNN
- Public health officials push back on May opening | TheHill – The Hill
- Analysis | The Health 202: Los Angeles is racing to discover the true coronavirus infection rate – The Washington Post
- Some Public Health Officials Not Releasing Coronavirus Hospitalizations : Shots – Health News – NPR
- Covid-19 health-care crisis could drive new developments in robotics, editorial says – The Washington Post
- Lost Your Health Insurance During the COVID-19 Crisis? Here Are Your Options – The Motley Fool
- El Paso virus cases jump to 35 as health leaders warn of increased risk of ‘community spread’ – KVIA El Paso