Local agencies prep for virus threat
Last updated 3/12/2020 at 6:06pm
COVID-19, or the coronavirus, has received widespread news coverage, and as cases and deaths in Washington have been confirmed, how does it affect the local community?
"Please be reassured that we have no confirmed cases of COVID-19 in our community," stated an email sent to Coulee Medical Center staff Tuesday.
The email said the hospital "is taking a proactive approach in preventing potential exposure to staff and patients by screening all visitors and patients prior to entrance into the facility."
If you visit CMC, you can't miss the triage tent set up outside the hospital entrance, where a registered nurse will screen those entering the hospital between 7 a.m. and 6 p.m., with the hospital locked down and visitors not allowed outside of those hours.
This is not new to CMC, Chief Executive Officer Ramona Hicks said.
The situation has warranted "a lot of ... beefing up and going over the things we've done in the past for other communicable things," Hicks said. "We've dealt with the measles; we've dealt with the possibility of Ebola a couple of years ago, so this is just another step in the ongoing training that we do as staff. ... Right now it's really routine communicable disease infection prevention measures that have proven to make a difference."
Questions asked at the triage tent include those about travelling, exposure to sick people, if someone has symptoms of respiratory illness, and other related questions.
Hicks said the staff is going through training, that they have a decontamination room that can be used, and that if someone showed any signs related to COVID-19 they would be seen as quickly as possible and talked to about staying at home and how to take care of themselves.
Hicks said updates would be posted on CMC's Facebook page as well as their website with any new information.
Grand Coulee Dam School District Superintendent Paul Turner told The Star in an email Feb. 28 that "the school district will respond to the direction we receive from Grant County Health Dept. We are communicating with them as well as Coulee Medical Center. ... Currently we have reviewed our policies to make sure they are up to date. We are also monitoring and encouraging washing of hands at the school. Now we wait to see what the future holds."
A dozen school districts across Washington have closed temporarily. Most are on the west side, but Colville School District in eastern Washington closed Monday in response to the news of a resident there being tested for the virus. The state basketball tournament in Spokane, where the Lake Roosevelt Raiders are scheduled to play this week, will be unaffected, the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association said in a March 2 statement.
WIAA said no changes have been made to the tournament schedule and it will "receive guidance regarding our upcoming events. The safety of participants and fans is the primary focus of our organization."
The statement also said that "high touch areas" at the tournament are being disinfected and that hand sanitizer stations will be at the events.
"If it starts spreading in Washington, we may implement measures to keep people away from each other to slow spread of virus," Washington State Health Officer Kathy Lofy, M.D. said Feb. 27 in a "media update" held by the Washington State Department of Health. That could include cancelling large public events, closing schools and encouraging employees working from home.
She said then that "risk to the general public is considered low," and there is "no need to panic." But she also said that the virus is "very likely to see spread here in Washington at some time in the future."
State Epidemiologist Scott Lindquist, M.D. said he wasn't personally rushing out to buy respiratory masks, and though he understands the concern, he's discouraging people from doing so.
A Coulee Hardware employee said the store had sold out of respiratory masks a week or two ago, with people buying them in bulk, and that the warehouses are out of them as well, so they can't restock them right now.
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee declared a state of emergency Feb. 29 following the news of the first death in the U.S. happening in Kirkland.
"This is a time to take common-sense, proactive measures to ensure the health and safety of those who live in Washington state," Inslee said. "Washingtonians can be assured we've taken this threat seriously and have been working in collaboration with our health care partners to develop plans and procedures to prepare for what could likely be a world-wide pandemic."
As of Tuesday, among 27 confirmed cases in Washington, nine people have died from the virus, the only deaths in the United States, seven of which were at a nursing home in Kirkland.
Grant County Health District said a county resident was "showing symptoms consistent with possible COVID-19." The health district "submitted a specimen to the state Public Health Laboratories for testing," the agency said in a release.
"GCHD continues to prepare for the possibility of Grant County being affected by this outbreak," the release states. "GCHD has been communicating with local healthcare and emergency response partners to ensure that effective prevention and response strategies are in place to reduce the spread of COVID-19 when it arrives."
GCHD said a second person from Grant County was also being tested. And several healthcare workers involved in the care of the patient being treated have been put into quarantine at home as a precaution, although they haven't shown any symptoms. That's a "standard protocol used to prevent the spread of disease and follows CDC guidance for COVID-19 prevention," the release states. "These individuals are being asked to do the quarantine at their homes and avoid contact with persons outside of their immediate families, for 14 days, and will be monitoring for symptoms.
If the test results come back negative, the quarantine will be lifted.
The Colville Tribes said Tuesday they have called on their administrative team and those at the Bureau of Indian Affairs and Indian Health Services to "activate local emergency preparedness plans and reinforce plans that already exist in our programs and operations."
"The COVID-19 situation is evolving rapidly," Colville Business Council Chairman
Rodney Cawston said in a release. "I want to assure our membership and community that
programs are required to have contingency plans in place and have activated those plans."
"The COVID-19 virus knows no boundaries," the release continued. "Collaboration is happening on all levels, internally and externally."