PORT ANGELES — Olympic Medical Center has seen an increase in severe respiratory cases this weekend although the cause was not known Sunday, the Clallam County public health officer said.
“There has been a rise in severe respiratory illness in the hospital that we can’t explain yet. We don’t know yet if that’s COVID-19 or if it is something else,” Dr. Allison Unthank said Sunday.
“I’m worried about that, that this could be a first sign that this is coming.”
Dr. Scott Kennedy, chief medical officer for OMC — which is based in Port Angeles — said Sunday he is not ready to call the recent rise unusual.
“We are seeing some respiratory cases; we do have days like this,” he said.
“It’s a busy day but we do get busy days,” he added. “I would want to see several busy days like this before I call it a trend.”
Unthank said no issues have been reported at Forks Community Hospital.
Clallam County had no confirmed cases of the coronavirus on Sunday — but it also has seen a lag in test results.
Neither Unthank nor Kennedy knew exactly how many tests have been sent from private providers, the county health department and the hospital to the University of Washington lab or private labs.
In Jefferson County, Dr. Tom Locke said that although Jefferson Healthcare hospital in Port Townsend had not seen an uptick in severe flu-like infections as of Friday, it has opened a respiratory illness evaluation station in a clinic off the hospital campus.
The evaluation station will be open Monday through Friday. Those who want to be seen are asked to call first on the dedicated COVID-19/Respiratory Illness Nurse Consult Line at 360.344.3094.
Health care workers will schedule people to come to the clinic so as to minimize exposure of others.
Jefferson Healthcare has tested 13 patients, with four still out, said Amy Yaley, director of marketing and communication, on Sunday. Those that have come back have shown that the people were free of COVID-19. Yaley added that both the hospital and the county public health department are sending tests to labs, so numbers can vary between the two.
The Jefferson County man who has the one confirmed case on the North Olympic Peninsula is largely recovered and is getting better every day, Locke said Sunday.
The man, who is in his 60s, was treated at the Seattle VA Medical Center, Locke said. It was the veterans’ hospital’s first case, he added.
Locke said he could not reveal where the man lives in Jefferson County or if he lives with others because of privacy concerns.
He reiterated that the man’s illness was connected with the outbreak in Kirkland that has claimed 17 lives so far.
“We don’t think he got it within the county,” Locke said.
Its impossible to tell if an infection is a cold, flu or COVID-19 without testing. So those who are ill are urged to stay home until at least 48 hours after they no longer have a fever. Social distancing — staying at least six feet away from those coughing or sneezing — and frequent handwashing or use of hand sanitizers containing at least 60 percent alcohol are all urged.
And — perhaps the most difficult directive — don’t touch one’s own face.
Those over 60 with chronic illness are at highest risk from COVID-19 but even most of those who get the virus will recover without serious effects, Unthank said.
“Most people will have a mild illness, even those in the high risk group,” she said.
Anyone who develops severe breathing difficulties is told to quickly get help quickly. It is best to call ahead to minimize exposure to others, but if that isn’t practical, don’t wait.
Health officials in both counties are impatiently awaiting test results.
Labs “told us we would get them within 24 hours but that was two days ago,” Unthank said Sunday.
“The testing is not easy,” Locke said, describing the sophisticated tests. “Labs are limited as to how many tests can be run through machines.”
UW officials have said they figure they have the capacity to process about 1,000 daily.
Unthank has said that part of the problem is having sufficient trained lab workers. Another aspect of the testing lag, both she and Locke said, is the federal government.
“What’s really happened is that directive from the federal government that anyone who wants to gets tested. So now thousands more are requesting tests from their doctors,” Unthank said.
Locke agreed that “misinformation coming from the federal government” is causing problems.
“It’s not just unhelpful. It’s harmful. Telling people that anyone who wants a test should have a test creates expectations that no one can meet” and that can slow test results for those most in need of them, he said.
“People have to trust to some degree that we know what we are doing,” Locke said.
“I suggest people take advice from medical experts and not from people running for political office.”
Executive Editor Leah Leach can be reached at 360-417-3530 or at [email protected].