Health officials preparing for COVID-19

No cases confirmed now on Peninsula

PORT ANGELES — Clallam County health officials say they are ready to respond should a case of COVID-19 appear on the North Olympic Peninsula.

Dr. Allison Unthank, Clallam County public health officer, said her main message to the public is to “remain calm.”

“It remains true that the No. 1 thing that you’re at risk of right now in Clallam County is flu and not COVID-19,” Unthank told the Clallam County Board of Health on Tuesday.

“And the same things that you would do to prevent getting the flu — handwashing, covering your cough, don’t go to work if you’re sick — also work for COVID-19,” she said.

Clallam County health officials are monitoring one person who had traveled to China in the last 14 days, Unthank said.

“We don’t get a lot of travel to and from China in Clallam County,” Unthank said.

“We have a lot of infrastructure built to monitor things like this, and we are doing that right now.”

Dr. Tom Locke, Jefferson County public health officer, said that three people in Jefferson County have been monitored for the COVID-19 virus. All three have completed a 14-day observation period, and none of them contracted the coronavirus, he said.

At least 18 Americans were infected, bringing the number of cases in this country to 35, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said Friday.

Public health officials are working with clinics and hospitals in Clallam County to make sure they are prepared, Unthank said.

Dr. Scott Kennedy, Olympic Medical Center chief medical and safety officer, said OMC is monitoring the international situation “very closely.”

“My main message tonight is that we’re not only getting ready, but we’re ready to detect and isolate and be part of the work countywide, statewide, nationwide, on this evolving situation should it grow,” Kennedy told OMC commissioners Wednesday.

“We are really assertively working to make sure that we detect and isolate and work with public health if something should come in our door.

“At this point, it’s just not here and it’s good,” Kennedy said of COVID-19.

“But what will become important if it does arrive is testing.”

The Centers of Disease Control and Prevention is working to develop a rapid test that could be manufactured and reproduced nationwide, Locke said.

One test was developed and sent to a manufacturer, “but one of the three primers didn’t work and they had to send it all back,” Locke said.

The CDC said Friday that it expects to post a new webpage this coming week on what CDC is already doing to mitigate transmission in communities.

Most COVID-19 respiratory illnesses are associated with travel from Wuhan, China. Kennedy said about 70,000 of the 75,000 known cases are in the Wuhan area

Health officials say the main risk factor for COVID-19 is recent travel to China.

“In the United States right now, we’re only seeing COVID-19 in people who have either traveled from China in the last two weeks or who have had close contact with someone who did,” Unthank said.

“We’ve had a couple cases where someone gave it to a spouse, for example, after they came back. But we are not seeing sustained transmission in the United States.

“I should probably take this moment to say we’ve gotten a lot of calls from people who have spent time around Chinese people and think that then puts them at risk for COVID-19,” Unthank told the health board.

“Being Chinese is not a risk factor. Traveling from China is a risk factor. I wish I didn’t have to say that, but I do.”

Symptoms of COVID-19 are similar to a common cold or flu and include a fever and cough, Unthank said. She added that COVID-19 has about a fatality rate of about 2 percent, compared to the flu’s 0.01 percent.

“Most people actually just get sick and then get better, as was the case actually the Snohomish County man,” Unthank said, referring to the first case of COVID-19 in Washington.

“He was released from the hospital. He’s doing fine.”

The Snohomish County case was self reported and quickly isolated.

Public health officials are working with clinics and hospitals in Clallam County to make sure they are prepared, Unthank said.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services asked Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center in Spokane to treat five virus patients last week because the hospital is equipped with airborne infection isolation rooms, the Associated Press reported.

Olympic Medical Center has negative pressure rooms and 30 computerized air purifier respirators that could be deployed, Kennedy said.

“If we had a case that screened positive for China in the last 14 days, and we had a fever and a cough, what we would do is we would isolate immediately and we’d get some protective gear on them and we would talk to the patient, get a little more history,” Kennedy told OMC commissioners.

“At that point, we would be under the direction of our public health officer or the state public health officer, whoever returned the call, and our infection control team would be supporting the clinical team that’s taking care of the patient.

“We’re looking at a whole host of preparedness things across the organization,” Kennedy added.

“We’re also preparing pandemic drills so that we can not only do it as a hospital, but do it with the various buildings and clinics at Olympic Medical Center.”

Unthank said the public heath system was built for outbreaks like COVID-19.

“One thing we like to say is this virus is new, but what we do about viruses is not new,” Unthank said.

“So the public health system was built for this, and we do this all the time. You just don’t know about it because it’s not on the news.”

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Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56450, or at [email protected]

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