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News >  Spokane

10 deaths due to COVID-19 recorded in Washington, test guidelines broadened

March 4, 2020 Updated Wed., March 4, 2020 at 9:49 p.m.

By Jim Camden and Arielle Dreher The Spokesman-Review

A tenth person in Washington died due to the novel coronavirus on Wednesday, according to the state Department of Health.

King and Snohomish counties together reported 12 additional cases of COVID-19 Wednesday as well, bringing the statewide total confirmed cases to 39. So far, only King and Snohomish counties have confirmed cases of COVID-19, although several county health districts are still waiting for test results.

Six of the 10 deaths in the state due to COVID-19 are linked to Life Care Center in Kirkland, where an outbreak has led officials to seal off the nursing facility to visitors, as residents there are all monitored for symptoms and are receiving care as if they all presumptively have the disease.

COVID-19 is a respiratory disease with flu-like symptoms, including a cough, fever and difficulty breathing. There is no treatment or vaccine, and although health officials learn more about the disease daily, it is still difficult to track and treat. Patients with COVID-19 are treated like patients with other respiratory illnesses.

Kathy Lofy, state health officer, said the state public health lab in Shoreline had tested 209 samples for 91 people since it began testing Friday.

“We have, up to today actually, been able to test everything that’s come into the lab,” Lofy said at a news conference in King County Wednesday. “We are starting to bump up against our capacity issues, which is why we’ve purchased more equipment.”

Despite this, Spokane, Grant and the Northeast Tri County health districts, which all have samples for potential COVID-19 cases pending at the lab, still had no results to report as of Wednesday evening. It has been four days since at least three of these county tests were submitted to the state lab.

The pending test results have led to isolation for people who were tested and tothe closure of the school district in Colville for disinfection. Colville schools are expected to open on Thursday. Close contacts of the person who was tested for COVID-19 have remained in isolation while the wait for results continues.

In Grant County, health care providers from Samaritan Hospital are quarantined while officials determine whether they were exposed to a positive case.

The Shoreline lab has the capacity to test about 100 people per day or about 200 specimens. The state health department purchased new equipment, which should arrive this week, and quadrupled the number of staff working there, Lofy said. Additionally, the state is working with other labs, including the University of Washington, to begin testing this week, too.

On Wednesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention opened up testing guidelines for medical providers, which previously focused on those people who had traveled to countries with community spread of the disease or those with severe respiratory illnesses already in the hospital. Now medical providers can use their own judgment to test people with symptoms, including fever, cough and difficulty breathing. Decisions can be based both on local epidemiology of COVID-19 and on the exhibition of the usual pattern of symptoms for this virus, CDC guidelines say.

Lofy said she expects the temporary capacity issues statewide for testing to be resolved in the coming days.

Staying home

Two weeks after they arrived at Sacred Heart Medical Center for care, two COVID-19 patients, who were passengers on the Diamond Princess cruise ship, remain in satisfactory condition, local health officials confirmed. Last week, the two other patients who were receiving care at Sacred Heart were discharged to their homes to complete their recovery.

In King County, officials are recommending, but not requiring, people at risk of severe illness to stay home and avoid large crowds, including people over the age of 60, people with underlying heart or lung disease or diabetes, people with weakened immune systems, and pregnant women. County officials also recommended that employers allow people to work from home, if it is possible. Health officials there are not recommending that schools close unless a confirmed COVID-19 case is found at a school.

Snohomish County officials declared a state of emergency in the county and in the city of Everett, and they will provide more details in a press conference Thursday. There are eight confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Snohomish County, including one death.

The novel coronavirus is a mild disease for 80% of patients who get it, officials said, reminding those that feel sick with COVID-19 symptoms to stay home and call their health care provider first before going into a doctor’s office or emergency department so as not to overwhelm the health care system.

“If we were able to test everyone in the community, the number of nonsevere, mild infections would far outnumber the severe ones,” Jeff Duchin, King County health officer, said at a news conference Wednesday.

Health insurance plans should cover testing as long as a health care provider deems a test medically necessary for a patient, guidance from the Washington insurance commissioner says. However, the commissioner advises those who have a short-term limited duration health plan or are part of a health sharing ministry to check their plan before getting tested.

Funding set aside

In Olympia, the Legislature continued to fast-track money for the state to fight the outbreak. The Senate voted 47-0 Wednesday evening to approve $100 million from the state’s reserves, an amount already approved by the House.

It also allows the state to use about $25 million in federal funds for the outbreak, and requires any unspent money to be returned to the reserves. Another amendment says a person under quarantine or isolation from the outbreak does not need to meet the work requirements to be eligible for unemployment insurance benefits.

Senate Majority Leader Andy Billig, D-Spokane, said the money could be used to expand testing capacity, track down people who had come in contact with COVID-19 patients and “help people get better.” State and local health workers deserve the state’s full support, he said.

“This is exactly why government is so important,” Billig said. “Because we’re ready to respond.”

Senate Minority Leader Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, said that unlike Washington, D.C., Washington state is making a swift and certain response to a real crisis without letting the emergency appropriation become a “Christmas tree” for other projects.

Vice President Mike Pence is scheduled to visit the state Thursday to meet with Gov. Jay Inslee, other state officials and members of the congressional delegation at the State Emergency Management Center at Camp Murray just south of Tacoma, to talk about the state’s response to the outbreak. Schoesler said the action the Legislature is taking will tell Pence “this Washington was ready to work.”

After passing the emergency appropriation, the Senate rose for a moment of silence for the 10 patients in Washington who have died from the virus.

Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson announced Wednesday his office had opened an investigation into price gouging connected to the coronavirus outbreak.

“We do not identify the targets of our investigations, but we are taking investigative actions,” Ferguson said in a news release.

Anyone who thinks they experienced price gouging was asked to file a complaint on the attorney general’s website.

Arielle Dreher's reporting for The Spokesman-Review is primarily funded by the Smith-Barbieri Progressive Fund, with additional support from Report for America and members of the Spokane community. These stories can be republished by other organizations for free under a Creative Commons license. For more information on this, please contact our newspaper’s managing editor.

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