Many businesses were closed in April and May then reopened. Some, including our schools, have continued to remain closed due to an increased risk of transmission of COVID-19 in those businesses, and due to requirements to follow the state proclamations. This has led to significant daily life disruptions for many of us, as well as significant economic and emotional pain that will not go away easily.
From a community/regional health perspective, North Central Washington in mid-August had the highest rate of COVID-19 cases per 100,000 population in the state. These patients were of all ethnicities, and social economic backgrounds, employed by multiple employers and industries, but tended to be of younger age than those afflicted in April. The number of individuals affected in Chelan, Douglas, Okanogan, and Grant Counties all reached peaks of more than 400 per 100,000 population in 2 weeks. Hospitalizations at Central Washington Hospital (where most patients requiring hospital care for COVID-19 in this area were hospitalized) reached a peak of 28, with 12 of those in the ICU requiring ventilator therapy. As appropriate, these patients have been treated with Remdesivir, Dexamethasone, or antibody rich plasma following current recommended national recommendations or study trials.
Unfortunately, some patients have not survived and to date, 11 residents of Chelan County have died due to COVID-19, 15 in Grant County, 7 in Douglas County, and 9 in Okanogan County. Their ages have ranged from 50-90.
In the last couple of weeks, things are looking much more hopeful. The number of symptomatic individuals tested per day in the region is decreasing. The percentage of positive tests has decreased to 10% from a peak of over 15%. Hospital census has also decreased.
Currently at Central Washington Hospital, there are 6 patients with COVID-19 in the ICU, and a total of 15 patients hospitalized. At Samaritan Hospital in Moses Lake there are currently a total of 4 patients with COVID-19. The number of cases per 100,000 population in the last 7 days has decreased to 238 in Grant County, 117 in Douglas County, 144 in Chelan County, and 45 in Okanogan County.
What has caused this improvement given in total only 2% of our region’s population have been confirmed positive? We know the number of infections that have occurred is likely higher than this as testing does show that perhaps 40% of individuals infected are asymptomatic and not all those with symptoms get tested, but in total, it is hard to believe that more than 6% of the population has been infected.
The infection rate reduction we are currently seeing is likely due to several things:
1. Masking has helped. National data suggests a 90% risk reduction of an infected individual spreading it to others if they wear a mask, and wearing a mask reduces an individual’s risk of getting infected if near an infected individual by about 20%. The use of masks has been very high in places of employment, businesses, and stores, but unfortunately, much less in parks and gatherings of friends and family.
2. Congregate living and working facilities (long-term care, assisted living, adult family homes, agricultural processing facilities) have worked very hard to minimize exposure risks in those facilities.
3. People infected have for the most part stayed isolated for the necessary 10 days, reducing the risk of them potentially infecting others.
Much progress has been made and if this continues, there is a real potential to open businesses currently closed and resume in person education. We are not there yet according to the medical epidemiologic evidence and state guidelines but are closer than we were a few weeks ago.
What can we all do to help this region get there?
1. Continue to wear a mask, whenever you are outside your household in a place where you cannot assure you will be able to stay at least six feet from other people.
2. Continue to use good hand hygiene. Wash your hands regularly, or if you cannot use hand sanitizer.
3. Continue to socially distance from others outside your own household members. Given the number of asymptomatic cases, do not trust that you or other non-household family members, or friends are not infected. The risk of get-togethers is clearly higher indoors, but it is not zero when you meet outside.
4. If you become ill with symptoms consistent with COVID-19, please get tested promptly and stay away from others (isolate yourself) until you get the test results.
5. If you test positive, please stay away from others for 10 days or 24 hours after your last fever, whichever is longer. If you are feeling ill, especially short of breath or not able to eat or drink adequately, please seek medical attention. Please, for the ten days after you develop symptoms or test positive, do not go to work. The federal CARES act does provide 2 weeks of unemployment pay for many people with COVID-19, so sick leave or vacation time does not have to be used if you are off work ill with COVID-19.
6. If you test positive, please let those you have been close to (distance less than 6 feet for more than 15 minutes) in the last 5 to 7 days know and encourage them to get tested even if they have no symptoms. The best time for testing is about 4-5 days after the time of exposure.
These individual efforts respect all of us as community members and are relatively small, personal contributions or sacrifices, leading to a large community benefit where hopefully soon, we can get back to a more “normal” life and stay there. In our own ways, each of us is trying to make sense of this unprecedented situation. It is certainly fluid, unfortunately uncertain and unfair, and not affecting everyone to the same extent.
We should all really appreciate the ingenuity shown by many businesses that have allowed them to continue to safely provide their needed services, and the sacrifices and risks taken by those individuals providing healthcare services to those with COVID-19, while trying to maintain all of the usual necessary health care services that keep us as a region with good health and quality of life.
The last few weeks have given us many reasons for hope. Learning and working in the midst of a pandemic such as this is a new first for all of us. What we are doing and need to continue to do together has never been done before. As we proceed, let us stay vigilant and not fall into a trap of complacency. We are getting through this and we will come out better and stronger in the end together.
Thank you for your continued cooperation in all that you do to make our communities a great place to live.
What COVID does in our region is in our local control. It is up to us, not to the virus.
North Central Washington Hospital Council
• Diane Blake, CEO |Cascade Medical Center
• Alan Fisher, CEO | Mid-Valley Hospital
• Scott Graham, CEO | Three Rivers Hospital
• Ramona Hicks, CEO | Coulee Medical Center
• Rosalinda Kibby, CEO | Columbia Basin Hospital
• John McReynolds, COO | North Valley Hospital
• George Rohrich, CEO | Lake Chelan Community Hospital & Clinics
• Peter Rutherford, CEO | Confluence Health
• Alex Town, CAO | Samaritan Healthcare
• Jesus Hernandez, CEO | Family Health Centers
• Sen. Linda Evans Parlette, Executive Director | North Central Accountable Community of Health
• David Olson, CEO | Columba Valley Community Health
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