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Spokane to add isolation facility, contact tracers as 104 new cases are confirmed

UPDATED: Thu., July 30, 2020

Deer prance past the "brown chapel" on the grounds of the Immaculate Heart Retreat Center, which will be used as a COVID-19 isolation center, on Sept. 9. 2011.  (DAN PELLE)
Deer prance past the "brown chapel" on the grounds of the Immaculate Heart Retreat Center, which will be used as a COVID-19 isolation center, on Sept. 9. 2011. (DAN PELLE)
By Jim Camden and Arielle Dreher The Spokesman-Review

The Spokane Regional Health District will expand its isolation options this fall, after contracting with Catholic Charities to use the Immaculate Heart Retreat Center as an isolation center devoted mostly to those with behavioral health needs or experiencing homelessness.

The center will be able to hold about 40 to 50 people and will supplement isolation space available at the My Place hotel in Spokane Valley .

Altogether, the health district will be able to offer a place to isolate to about 100 people who cannot do so at home. Between June 1 and last week, 60 people had used isolation services offered by the health district.

The number of beds and capacity needed is scalable, Lyndia Wilson, incident commander for the COVID-19 response at the health district, told the Board of Health on Thursday.

“They’ll have staff ready to go but won’t use them unless needed,” she said. “But what’s hard about it is, we’re expecting the fall to get worse.”

Catholic Charities staff will provide social support services, sanitizing and maintenance. Health district staff will provide medical care and expertise at the center. The health district signed a $1.35 million contract with Catholic Charities to administer the site through Dec. 31. The contract includes funding for set-up costs, the facility, staffing and food. Next year, the contract could be renewed on a monthly basis, if needed. The health district used Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security, or CARES, Act funding to pay for the contract.

The project received the blessing of the Most Rev. Thomas Daly, the Bishop of Spokane.

Contract tracers hired

The health district has also hired more personnel to help with contact investigations, in addition to hiring the California-based Public Health Institute to work on contact tracing.

Wilson said the district now has 48 people conducting case investigations and contact tracing.

“We’re hoping this will catch us up, and get us where everything is timely,” Wilson said.

Keeping up with cases is no easy feat when the county is averaging about 91 cases per day, as Wilson estimates.

Case investigations have also been difficult to complete when residents sometimes don’t cooperate with health district staff, Wilson said.

“Our biggest concern is that cases are sometimes not providing us with the contacts they’ve had, and without this information it will hurt our efforts in following up with all those who have been exposed,” she said.

Sometimes health district workers cannot get information from people with COVID-19 because they don’t know those contact details of their close contacts, but other times, it’s because they know their friends will have to be put in quarantine or isolation.

“They know if they name people that they will be put in quarantine and isolation, so they’re not naming them,” Wilson said.

She said this slows the effort to stall the virus’ spread.

104 new cases

The Spokane Regional Health District confirmed 104 new cases on Thursday, bringing the county total to 3,673. Three more Spokane County residents died from the virus, bringing the number of residents who have died to 57. So far this week, 10 county residents have died from COVID-19.

Slightly more than half of county residents who have gotten the virus are considered “recovered” by the health district, meaning they are 28 days beyond their initial onset of illness and are not hospitalized.

In the Inland Northwest, 100 people are hospitalized with COVID-19. There are 68 patients hospitalized for the virus in Spokane hospitals, including 38 Spokane County residents. In North Idaho, 32 residents are hospitalized with the virus.

The Panhandle Health District confirmed 89 new cases on Thursday and an additional death, the first reported in Shoshone County. The individual had been hospitalized and was in his 80s. Nine other North Idaho residents, all from Kootenai County, have also died from the virus. There are 1,768 confirmed cases in the five-county area the Panhandle Heath District covers.

Inslee emphasizes masks

During an afternoon news conference, Gov. Jay Inslee said Washington is having good success with people observing rules to wear masks in stores and other businesses, but not as much with them wearing masks or observing social distancing guidelines in social gatherings.

“A mask works just as well in a social setting as a business setting,” he said.

While he said wearing a mask and keeping a safe distance is important “for everybody in every circumstance,” the evidence so far does not indicate large protests are causing a spike in COVID-19 cases, Inslee added.

Some 5,000 people in King County came in voluntarily for testing after attending protests and the positivity rate was about one-tenth of 1%, he said.

“That may be because, from my observation, a lot of people are wearing a mask,” he said.

Contact tracers are asking people who have tested positive whether they have been in large crowds, state Health Secretary John Wiesman said. Although there’s no specific question about attending a protest, it sometimes comes up in the conversation after the question about being in a large crowd.

The ability to conduct contact tracing of those who test positive for COVID-19 is being hampered by the fact that people are not answering the phone when the tracers call, Inslee said.

The success state or local health officials have contacting someone within 24 hours of getting test results varies widely from week to week and across the state, Wiesman said.

“A lot of that depends on, are people answering their phones or are they returning the voicemail messages that public health folks leave for them?” Wiesman said. “They’re working hard, we need the cooperation of the public.”

To address concerns that some people seem to have about supplying information, Inslee signed a proclamation that prevents the public release of any personal data – including names, birth dates and addresses – given to contact tracers.

Inslee also said the pause on the phased reopening of the state’s economy will continue, although there is “some evidence of success” in data.

“It’s just too early to allow significantly more activities to open up right now,” he said.

On another matter related to the pandemic, Inslee said he expected an announcement “in a few days” on new state guidelines for reopening schools with in-class learning sessions.

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