A man in his 70s was confirmed as Clark County’s first COVID-19 case late Friday night.
The patient is receiving treatment in isolation at PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center in Vancouver. PeaceHealth Spokeswoman Debra Carnes said she couldn’t share the patient’s medical condition. She did say the patient is isolated in a single room that’s closely monitored, and that staff wear protective masks and eyewear when visiting the patient.
Clark County’s first confirmed case had no previous contacts with a confirmed case of COVID-19, and has not traveled to an area where the virus is spreading, which indicates the virus is circulating in Clark County.
Clark County Public Health also confirmed two more negative COVID-19 tests. The county has one confirmed case, three negative tests and five pending tests as of Saturday evening.
Public Health, which announced the Clark County confirmed case at about 10:45 p.m. Friday, has reached out to close contacts of the patient, and asked that they voluntarily quarantine themselves for 14 days. That means staying home and not attending work, school or any public outings unless they are seeking medical care.
Public Health will be actively monitoring the small number of close contacts, calling them daily and asking if they are staying home, and whether they are experiencing any symptoms of COVID-19.
Two Clark County Fire District 6 firefighters were exposed when treating the patient on March 1, said Fire District 6 Public Information Officer David Schmitke. The medical call was not in response to any symptoms of COVID-19 such as respiratory problems, Schmitke said, declining to provide the exact reason for the dispatch.
The firefighters, who worked this week after the exposure, have not shown symptoms of the virus, and will be in self-isolation for another week until they hit 14 days since exposure.
Schmitke said it’s very unlikely the firefighters spread the virus to other people they treated.
“We are not worried about that,” he said.
Earlier this week, Clark County Public Health Officer Dr. Alan Melnick told The Columbian people are generally good about heeding Public Health’s advice on isolating themselves.
For example, when Clark County had a measles outbreak that recorded 71 cases last year between January and late April, the spread of measles was mostly within households for the last three months. Between February and April, 87 percent of measles exposures occurred in households with another measles patient, according to Public Health.
“What we did worked,” Melnick said.
Nine tests requested
On Monday, Clark County Public Health sent specimens for seven people to Washington Public Health Laboratories in Shoreline for COVID-19 testing. Then the county sent specimens for a person on both Tuesday and Thursday. That means Clark County is still awaiting results from tests sent in as early as Monday.
In an email, Washington Department of Health Spokeswoman Danielle Koenig said there’s still a backlog of tests to process, and that tests connected to the fatal outbreak at the nursing home in Kirkland are being prioritized.
The Seattle Times reported Saturday that the Kirkland nursing home is still completing testing for residents, after announcing Wednesday that all their residents would be tested. The nursing home hasn’t received enough test kits for all its residents.
The University of Washington Medicine virology laboratory is now approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to test for COVID-19, which is increasing the state’s testing capacity. The lab is expected to administer 1,000 tests per day, while the state’s lab is conducting closer to 100 tests per day.
“We expect to get through the backlog soon,” Koenig said in her email.
Koenig said she can’t share the number of pending tests causing the backlog. Melnick said he hopes to have more test results soon, but said Public Health hasn’t gotten a definitive timeline from the department of health on returning tests.
Public Health isn’t releasing times, dates and locations of places visited by the COVID-19 patient for a couple reasons, Melnick said. One reason is that, unlike measles, which can be spread through the air and linger for hours, COVID-19 is spread through contact within 6 feet, including droplets transmitted by sneezing or coughing.
“Without close contact with an infected person, you are at extremely low risk of contracting COVID-19,” Melnick said in a news release.
Another reason Public Health isn’t releasing times and locations is because they don’t want to give people a false sense of security, Melnick said. For example if the patient had visited a grocery store at 10 p.m. Tuesday night, and you didn’t visit that store at the same time, that doesn’t mean you should be less vigilant and feel safe from contracting the virus. Once coronavirus is circulating locally, Melnick said the best defense is to be vigilant.
That means staying home if you’re sick, and staying away from sick people as well as washing your hands properly and keeping a safe distance from people.
“This is in the community now, and people need to be using these same directions wherever they go,” Melnick said.
Schmitke said Fire District 6 has implemented a new protocol since the first case arrived in Washington in late January. Firefighters are wearing particulate masks to all calls now, he said, and the district is sending the fewest number of firefighters they can for each call. Firefighters are also staying 10 feet away from patients when taking initial information, if possible.
Firefighters are also constantly wiping down and cleaning the fire station in Hazel Dell.
“You’ve never seen a cleaner fire station in your life,” he said. “We’re super-cautious. We’ve been very cautious throughout this whole thing.”