Spokane County declared a public health emergency Friday afternoon and confirmed two new COVID-19 cases as neighboring Stevens County reported its first positive test in a person who is hospitalized with pneumonia.
The statewide total of COVID-19 cases surpassed 1,500 Friday, with the death toll rising to 83, according to the state health department. Two deaths have been confirmed east of the Cascades.
County Health Officer Dr. Bob Lutz said declaring the public health emergency will allow the Spokane Regional Health District to more easily purchase supplies and services to address the COVID-19 pandemic. He said health officials have confirmed a total of 11 cases in Spokane County.
“Our goal continues to be slowing the spread of COVID-19 in the Spokane region,” Lutz said during a news conference.
Lutz also issued a health order closing playgrounds and play structures to promote social distancing requirements and slow the spread of COVID-19. The mandate does not include tennis courts, skate parks, trails, sports fields and other public open spaces.
“It is important that you and your families stay healthy by getting outdoors, by playing and using the green spaces our parks provide,” Lutz said. “When using these recreational spaces, however, it is important to remember: maintain at least 6 feet of social distance and limit your group to 10 or fewer people. Use hand sanitizer, wash your hands before and after using public spaces. Avoid using these spaces if you are sick.”
Health care providers screened 101 people for COVID-19 risk factors at a referral-only, drive-thru screening site at the Spokane County Fair & Expo Center parking lot during its first full day of operation Friday, according to Spokane Regional Health District spokesperson Kelli Hawkins. Of those screenings, providers determined 69 people needed to be tested.
The Stevens County patient, who was not identified, is isolated and receiving treatment at a local hospital, health officials said.
During a virtual press conference, Dr. Samuel Artzis, health officer at Northeast Tri County Health District, said that the person has pneumonia and other symptoms of the virus, like cough and fever. The Stevens County resident was tested a week ago, and results just came back today.
Delays in testing have led to challenges for local health officials trying to isolate individuals who might have been exposed and to reach potential contacts.
“Some test results we are seeing have been seven days from when tests were taken to received. That really creates a difficult scenario from an isolation standpoint and identifying close contacts,” said Matt Schanz, administrator at Northeast Tri County Health District. “So all the efforts to try to increase the testing opportunities have greatly assisted and increase our awareness of how many people will be infected.”
The health district is working to identify and notify people who may have come into contact with the diagnosed person.
The case announced Friday is the first identified within the Northeast Tri County Health District, which covers Stevens County, Pend Oreille County and Ferry County. The risk associated with COVID-19 is increasing, according to the health district, which warned that it expects to see more cases confirmed in the future.
There are now 44 COVID-19 cases confirmed in 11 counties in Eastern Washington, and health officials expect those numbers to grow as testing capacity increases in the coming days and weeks. Chelan County reported one new case and Yakima County confirmed an additional three Friday, according to local and state officials.
About 21,700 tests have been negative statewide, making up 93% of all tests, according to data from the state health department. More than 1,200 of the state’s positive cases are attributed to King, Snohomish and Pierce counties.
Gov. Jay Inslee warned at a Friday news conference that state officials will impose tighter restrictions, such as strict shelter-in-place orders, if all residents don’t take seriously current guidelines to stay home as much as possible and away from groups in social situations.
“We all are potential transmitters of this virus and we all to some varying degree are potential victims of this virus,” Inslee said. “And if anyone is living a normal life today, you are not doing what we need to do if we are going to save lives in this state.”
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