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More contract tracers dealing with uncooperative COVID-19 patients, making it harder to slow spread as Spokane County cases spike

UPDATED: Thu., Oct. 15, 2020

 (Molly Quinn / The Spokesman-Review)
(Molly Quinn / The Spokesman-Review)

COVID cases are escalating in Spokane County, with community spread and outbreaks in nearly all sectors.

But public health workers are facing an additional challenge: people who won’t pick up their phones or be honest with investigators.

Spokane County Health Officer Dr. Bob Lutz said case investigators are struggling at times to get people to be forthcoming about their contacts and who they might have infected with the virus, making their jobs all the more difficult.

“There’s definitely a percentage of individuals who are not willing to share information,” Lutz told reporters Wednesday.

This also reflects a statewide trend of people who have tested positive not picking up the phone to speak with case investigators in the first place. In case investigations conducted by state health workers, only 67% of total cases were interviewed in the most recent week of data released.

Health workers are already stretched thin. In Spokane County, the Public Health Institute, which has been contracted to handle the contact tracing that continues after an initial case investigation, will add another team next week, Lutz said.

But with the staggering number of confirmed cases comes an even greater number of potential contacts to call.

On Wednesday, the Spokane Regional Health District confirmed 122 new COVID-19 cases in the county. There are now 8,366 confirmed cases in the county with 72% of those considered recovered.

Statewide, COVID cases are on the rise again, as are hospitalizations.

This is true in Spokane County as well. There are 44 patients being treated for COVID-19 in local hospitals, and 33 of them are county residents. Another resident died from the virus on Wednesday, bringing the total number of Spokane County residents who have died from the virus to 179.

Meanwhile, the Panhandle Health District confirmed 61 new cases on Wednesday, as well as three more deaths due to the virus. There are 23 residents in the five-county region hospitalized with the virus.

Lutz said he is prepared to tighten COVID-19 restrictions if case counts continue to balloon, and he is looking at data to determine areas that might be considered hot spots for the virus.

“If we see the same sectors light up, that’s where I would try to leverage and make changes to prevent that transmission,” he said.

As school districts consider bringing more students back, Lutz said incidence rates in children 8 and under are still much lower than the 10-19 age group, which has continued to increase.

CHAS clinics throughout Spokane have opened up their eligibility for rapid testing to not only health care workers and people living in congregate living facilities but to faculty and students in K-12 schools, including preschool students. Rapid testing is ideal for people with COVID-19 symptoms.

Arielle Dreher's reporting for The Spokesman-Review is funded in part by Report for America and by members of the Spokane community. This story 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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