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News >  Spokane

Spokane airport travelers express little concern over risk of contracting coronavirus

UPDATED: Sun., March 1, 2020

It was business as usual at Spokane International Airport on Sunday, amid reports of new cases and a second death in King County tied to the spreading coronavirus.

Airport officials communicate with the Spokane Regional Health District frequently to stay up to date on new health and safety recommendations, said Todd Woodard, airport spokesman.

COVID-19 is a respiratory disease with symptoms similar to the common cold or flu, including fever, coughing and difficulty breathing. The disease has spread quickly since the first reported death in China in January. As of Sunday afternoon, the World Health Organization reported 2,980 deaths from the virus and more than 87,000 confirmed cases, with the vast majority in China.

Over the weekend, the Trump administration pledged additional resources and coordination to keep the virus contained, in light of news Saturday it killed one Washington resident. Still, many travelers through the regional air transportation hub expressed no heightened concern about the disease, which local health experts continue to say presents low risk to the general public.

A handful of passengers wore masks Sunday, but as he manned the Visit Spokane information booth, Shawn Wetzel said it’s no more than normal.

“Barely anyone, almost not noticeable,” he said of people wearing masks.

More people at the downtown Visit Spokane Information Center, in Riverfront Park, have been wearing masks and talking about the coronavirus than at the airport, Wetzel said.

The Centers for Disease Control recommends only people showing symptoms of COVID-19 wear a mask to prevent spreading the disease to others.

Woodard, the airport spokesman, encouraged fliers to follow the CDC control guidelines for preventing the spread of the illness. The airport is regularly cleaned by janitorial staff, he added.

The World Health Organization encouraged sick travelers and people with chronic diseases, underlying health conditions or those who are elderly to delay or avoid travel to affected areas.

At the Spokane airport, Erin Gillingham was wearing a mask as she got off a flight from Long Beach, California, to visit family, but it wasn’t due to the virus.

Gillingham said she always wears a mask when she flies.

People don’t cover their mouth with their elbow when they cough or wash their hands enough, Gillingham explained.

As a pediatric nurse at Spokane’s Shriners Hospital, she said she’s aware of how quickly germs can spread.

The CDC recommends individuals wash their hands for at least 20 seconds, especially after using the bathroom, before eating and after coughing or sneezing. It’s also recommended to cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue and avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.

“People don’t protect themselves,” she said. “It seems like I always catch a cold on an airplane.”

Gillingham said people on her flight out of Spokane were not wearing masks, but estimated that about 10 people had donned masks on her flight back from Long Beach.

A self-described “germophobe,” Gillingham said people seem less worried about the virus in Spokane than elsewhere.

“People don’t seem to be worried here, you know, small towns, no one ever thinks it will happen here,” she said.

Larry and Donna Stanger were at the airport to pick up their daughter after she went to California for the birth of the couple’s first great-granddaughter.

The couple in their 80s said they weren’t too worried about the virus, even though health officials say elderly people or those with pre-existing conditions are at a higher risk. The two new patients in King County identified Sunday were men in their 60s who had underlying health conditions, according to local officials.

“A lot of people our age don’t really take good care of themselves, but we do,” Larry Stanger said.

Donna Stanger worked at the MultiCare Valley Hospital for years and still volunteers at their information desk.

“I’m not too worried about going in there,” she said.

Stanger said the masks handed out for the hospital are for specific purposes, and that people should keep up with recommendations like washing their hands.

Holly Wagner got off a plane after attending her sister’s baby shower in Casper, Wyoming.

“ I’m not worried,” said Wagner of the virus. “I know it’s serious, but I mean, so is the flu.”

While two known deaths are attributable to COVID-19 in the United States, the CDC estimates at least 18,000 deaths have been caused by influenza this season.

A second presumptive case of COVID-19 was announced by the Oregon Health Authority on Sunday night. The case is a Washington County resident who was a contact of the initial presumptive positive case announced Friday. The individual did not need medical attention as of Sunday night and was isolated at home.

The Oregon State Public Health Laboratory tested nine people Sunday with eight tests coming back negative. The lab can process 80 tests a day with supplies for 1,500 tests.

Wagner said she saw people in the airport on her layover wearing masks, something she found odd.

“If anything, I’m amused by all the people in the masks,” said Wagner.

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