Two more people have died in Spokane County hospitals due to COVID-19, including another veteran who was a resident at the Spokane Veterans Home.
Spokane County now has 19 deaths due to the respiratory virus.
The death at the Spokane Veterans Home was the second at the facility, which public officials say has the largest cluster of cases in Spokane County with 25 confirmed positives.
“We mourn the passing of our veteran and share our condolences with their family and friends,” said Lourdes E. “Alfie” Alvarado-Ramos, director of the Washington State Department of Veterans Affairs (WDVA), in a statement. “Having the honor of taking care of our veterans and their families is something we do not take lightly and every loss, whether COVID-19 related or not, is very hard for us all.”
The nursing home resident had tested positive for COVID-19 and was hospitalized on the weekend, according to the WDVA. Three other residents also have been hospitalized.
The nursing home’s 20 other resident cases are being cared for at the facility.
Each employee at the facility has also been tested, according to the department. Out of 103 tests, 10 have been positive and 18 have been negative.
Staff, who are screened for symptoms before work, check residents for symptoms every four hours. The Spokane VA Medical Center and a team from MultiCare are assisting the facility with infection control practices.
The first case at the facility was an employee who was awaiting a COVID-19 test result and returned to work after three days without symptoms. The employee worked in the area of the nursing home where the initial 19 cases and first death occurred.
As of Tuesday afternoon, no residents or staff at other WDVA nursing homes had tested positive for COVID-19. Those locations include facilities in Orting, Walla Walla and Port Orchard, where 224 residents have tested negative.
“As we continue down this challenging road, I again want to thank each staff member at the Spokane Veterans Home,” said Patrick McNabb, administrator of the Spokane Veterans Home, in a statement. “The resiliency of our team and the spirit with which they perform their duties is to be commended. I also want to thank our families and loved ones for their understanding and support and our community members who have stepped up to show their support as we work through these challenges together.”
A total of 315 people had tested positive for COVID-19 in Spokane County as of Tuesday afternoon, and the majority of those with the virus are recovering at home. A dozen people are receiving treatment in local hospitals, Spokane County Health Officer Dr. Bob Lutz said Tuesday.
Despite the slowing number of cases and hospitalizations, Lutz said “we’re not at the point where we can back off,” noting the re-opening of society will be both slow and calibrated.
Local testing is available at the Spokane County Interstate Fairgrounds and through health care providers.
In the coming days and weeks, Lutz said the state plans to increase testing capacity and relax the guidelines that determine who qualifies for testing. More testing is needed before re-opening parts of the state that are shutdown due to Gov. Jay Inslee’s “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” order.
Lutz said testing materials and personal protective equipment is being made more widely available to workers in long-term care facilities.
State health officials said that while COVID-19 activity statewide appeared to peak in late March, there are still some parts of the state seeing outbreaks and an increase in case numbers. As a part of re-opening the state, health officials are looking for a decline in the rate of new cases reported as well as a decline in the rate of people hospitalized with the virus, among other data.
“We definitely want to see a decline, but we also need to get down to a number of cases reported every day that we have the capacity to do the contact tracing for,” State Health Officer Dr. Kathy Lofy told reporters Tuesday.
Currently, about 200 new cases are reported statewide on a daily basis. While this number is down from peak figures seen in late March, Lofy said 200 cases per day is too high to do adequate contact tracing.
Lofy said she wants to see cases declining statewide before loosening social distance strategies.
“We do have variable activity throughout the state, and we recognize that and we’re trying to figure out how to deal with that variability,” she told reporters. “I would like to see case counts and COVID declining everywhere before we start to think about loosening social distancing strategies.”
Leaders of the state’s COVID-19 response also said they are working to get more testing kits to local health departments and tribes in the state. They estimated the state will distribute 30,000 testing kits by early next week, once swabs and other in-demand supplies come into the state warehouse.
Testing peaked in Washington in mid-March, and now Lofy says they need two to three times the testing kits currently in stock to adequately move the state into phased re-opening.
Once the “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” order is relaxed, state officials aim to test symptomatic people within 48 hours and to complete a full contact tracing investigation.
Health officials estimate only about 5% of Washington residents are immune to the virus at this point, meaning “once people come into contact with it again, it will start spreading and spreading rapidly,” Lofy said.
Statewide, there are 12,282 confirmed cases, with 682 deaths reported.
New hospital data released by the Department of Health on Tuesday show that in late March as many as 80 Washington residents were admitted to hospitals per day with COVID-19, but that number has decreased since then. Patients who are between 60 and 79 years old make up the majority of hospitalized patients in the state thus far.
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