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News >  Spokane

More than 2,000 COVID-19 cases reported statewide, 3 Spokane County residents hospitalized

UPDATED: Tue., March 24, 2020

A building-closure sign hangs on the main office window of Robertson Elementary School on March 16, 2020, in Yakima. Yakima County issued Washington’s first stay-at-home order in response the COVID-19 pandemic on Sunday, March 23, 2020. (Amanda Ray / AP)
A building-closure sign hangs on the main office window of Robertson Elementary School on March 16, 2020, in Yakima. Yakima County issued Washington’s first stay-at-home order in response the COVID-19 pandemic on Sunday, March 23, 2020. (Amanda Ray / AP)

The number of confirmed novel coronavirus cases in Spokane County nearly doubled in two days to 29, including three residents who are hospitalized. No one in the county has died of the viral infection.

There were 2,221 confirmed COVID-19 cases in Washington as of Monday, including 103 cases east of the Cascades in 13 counties. So far the virus has led to 110 deaths statewide, including three deaths in Eastern Washington. As Washington residents prepare to hunker down for at least two weeks under Gov. Jay Inslee’s “stay home” order, access to screening and testing continues to increase locally.

A drive-up site at the Spokane County Fairgrounds for residents to get their symptoms checked is open and actively taking samples for COVID-19 tests for people with severe symptoms.

As of Sunday evening, about 350 people had been seen at the fairgrounds since it opened, with about a third to half of those people being tested, said Julie Humphreys, Spokane public safety communications manager.

On Monday, the Fairgrounds screening site was on track to have its busiest day yet with about 180 people screened by mid-day, Humphreys said.

People do not need a doctor’s referral to be seen at the drive-up site, but officials are asking people to call their health care provider or seek virtual care first to see if in-person screening is necessary for their symptoms.

Due to the limited supply of test kits, not everyone will be tested for COVID-19.

“We are stressing that you do need to be symptomatic to be tested,” Humphreys said.

Before Inslee issued the stay-at-home order Monday, the Yakima Health District became the first county in the state to issue such an order Sunday night, effective immediately. Everett and Edmonds had also issued stay-at-home orders.

Health districts are releasing minimal details about confirmed COVID-19 cases. Most people who contract COVID-19 will not have severe enough symptoms to be hospitalized and instead will be told by medical providers to treat their symptoms at home in isolation. Some people will need to be hospitalized, however, and the health care system in Eastern Washington has been preparing for an influx of patients with respiratory illness.

In Washington, COVID-19 is most deadly for people over the age of 60, with 92% of deaths reported in people of that age group. People with underlying health conditions also are at high-risk for developing severe illness if they get COVID-19. The first documented outbreak of COVID-19 in Washington was at the Life Care Center in Kirkland, where 37 residents died from the virus. The federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid released details of its inspection of the facility Monday, finding three situations in which a patient’s safety was in imminent danger.

“Specifically, the facility’s failure to rapidly identify and manage ill residents, notify the Washington Department of Health about the increasing rate of respiratory infection among residents, and failure to possess a sufficient backup plan following the absence of the facility’s primary clinician, who fell ill,” a Centers for Medicare and Medicaid statement on the inspection says.

Centers for Medicare and Medicaid has enhanced its inspection guidelines for facilities, accordingly, as Department of Health and Human Services inspectors continue to inspect nursing homes and assisted living facilities statewide that take Medicaid or Medicare funding. This has put both retirement communities and nursing homes on high alert, with stringent rules for visitors and residents alike.

In Spokane Valley, a resident at Holman Gardens retirement community tested positive for COVID-19 last week. No visitors are allowed at that property until Friday, as of now, said Glen Pierce, CEO of Spokane Baptist Association Homes, which runs the community.

That resident, who is isolated, had traveled for two weeks, Pierce said, but had come back and been isolated. The resident was tested over the weekend of March 14 after not feeling well, and results confirmed it was COVID-19. Pierce said the resident had recovered and said no other residents at Holman Gardens, which has 96 units, have been tested for the virus.

“Our resident was case No. 6 (in Spokane County), and we had a week’s jump on it,” he said.

Staff are screened at Holman Gardens as well as the association’s two other communities, Lilac Plaza and Lilac Terrace. The retirement communities are not nursing homes or assisted living facilities with staffed medical care providers like certified nursing assistants or nurses, but Pierce said residents in each community have a staff member they can call if they are not feeling well, and the wellness coordinator can check in on residents, too.

Pierce watched the pandemic develop and believes his staff got a jump on preparations as the virus made its way to Eastern Washington. He pulled housekeepers out of rooms, shut coffee shops and group gatherings all before there was a confirmed case in Spokane County. The staff focuses on disinfecting common areas, handrails and elevators multiple times a day, he said, and the facilities all have a communications plan in place to update residents three times a day on what is going on and the various announcements about visitor policies.

Two hours southwest of Spokane, COVID-19 has found its way into one assisted living and retirement community in the Tri-Cities and led to a death there. A resident at Bonaventure Tri-Cities facility in Richland died of COVID-19 on March 14, although health officials did not confirm it was from the novel coronavirus until four days later. The resident had traveled to the Redmond, Washington, area from March 2-4, and Bonaventure officials believe the resident contracted the virus outside of the facility. The resident was in her 80s and had underlying health conditions; she quarantined in her suite. She did not go to the emergency room until March 12, however, and died two days later.

Bonaventure is not allowing visitors and is asking residents to not leave unless it is necessary. Staff members are picking up groceries and prescriptions for residents. Residents who leave the facility are being asked to quarantine for two weeks when they return.

Two more Bonaventure residents have tested positive for COVID-19 over the weekend, Jeremiah Gray, director of operations with Bonaventure, said Monday. Both are being treated at local hospitals, he said.

“We don’t believe it’s a large-scale outbreak,” Gray said. “We’d like to think that the measures we’ve taken have kept people safe.”

Staff are screened twice a day, and residents are screened three times. Everyone in the facility, which has 172 residents, is confined to their rooms. Gray acknowledged it will take about 10 days to see if the facility’s stringent efforts are paying off.

Reporter Emma Epperly contributed to this story.

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