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Health care providers emphasize hospitals are safe, urge patients to seek needed care

Health and hospital officials encouraged Spokane County residents to seek medical care for emergencies with local hospitals reporting lower than normal census numbers in emergency departments.

“Anecdotally we’ve noted there has been a decrease in people showing up in a timely fashion with symptoms of heart attacks and strokes, so 911 is essential, every minute counts,” Spokane County Health Officer Dr. Bob Lutz said Friday.

Providence and MultiCare officials assured residents that they have implemented safety measures and protocols to keep patients safe. Patients with respiratory symptoms are routed to separate waiting areas and parts of the hospitals, and there are only 10 people receiving treatment for COVID-19 in local hospitals currently.

Visitor restrictions and other safety measures remain in place at local hospitals, and those who are there to receive care or treatment are masked.

“We want to emphasize that for people that have emergencies, seek normal pathways of treatment and not delay. We are seeing people wait instead of seeking care immediately,” Adam Richards, director of emergency services at Providence, said, noting that local hospitals have enough beds and space to treat patients.

Spokane County has 367 confirmed COVID-19 cases with 22 deaths due to the respiratory virus. Local hospitals have enhanced testing capacities as well as increased their personal protective supplies.

“Now we have the ability to test patients, not as robustly as we want, but in the hospital we can test patients more quickly,” David O’Brien, chief executive of MultiCare in the Inland Northwest, said Friday.

Hospital leaders said it was helpful when Gov. Jay Inslee clarified last week what kinds of nonemergency medical procedures can be performed. With adequate PPE levels, more surgeries will be incrementally allowed.

“I think it’s kind of working collaboratively with (the governor) to make sure we’re prepared on the supply side to do what we want to do, which is open up safely,” Richards said.

Despite Washington state’s scaled and phased re-opening plan, which Inslee announced Friday, Lutz said he has concerns about other parameters being in place beyond the county’s actual COVID-19 case numbers when it comes to re-opening.

“For me, regional approach doesn’t mean a county approach, it means truly as a region,” Lutz said. “… I think there are opportunities for looking at a regional approach, and as I’ve said in the past, I don’t necessarily advocate for that, but I also don’t necessarily say that shouldn’t be a consideration going forward.”

Lutz said the county’s proximity to Idaho concerns him, especially with the state starting its first phase of re-opening businesses.

“It’s a decision that their governor has made, and we may be impacted by it,” Lutz said, noting the mere 20 miles between Spokane and the Idaho border.

The Panhandle Health District reported 66 confirmed cases as of Friday with 62 in Kootenai County. And while they have far fewer cases than in Spokane County, Lutz noted that they have also done less testing in Idaho.

“It’s not as if we’ve got the 75-foot wall between Washington and Idaho,” Lutz said.

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.