COVID-19 outbreak occurs at Stevens County assisted living facility

(BRANDON HANSEN/Chewelah Independent)

CHEWELAH GETS ANOTHER CASE: Chewelah gets first COVID-19 case in months, health officials say that state trends for virus continue to go downward…

The NE Tri County Health District announced an outbreak of cases in a Colville skilled nursing facility last week. On Friday they confirmed six cases of COVID-19 in residents at Buena Vista Healthcare in Colville. An additional case linked to the outbreak was reported on Friday, and previously two cases at the facility had been reported.

This is a big jump in cases after a relatively quite and low-number stretch for the entire area. NE Tri-County Health District medical officer Sam Artzis did want to commend the assisted and long-term care centers in the area for taking the threat of the virus very seriously and putting in protocols for preventing outbreaks in NE Washington. Our area saw no outbreaks amongst these facilities until now, while facilities on the western side of the state saw several outbreaks of the virus.

“I serve as the medical officer for Buena Vista and I haven’t been in there since February,” Artzis said. “They have been very strict on who can come in and out of their facility.”

The 111-resident facility was performing cycle testing that all facilities conduct during this pandemic. This is how they discovered the positive cases. NE Tri County Health said that the facility is taking this very seriously and everyone is cooperating and helping with contact tracing.

“That has been a large focus of Tri-County Health right now is tracing close contacts involved in the cases at the facility as quickly as possible,” NETCHD Administrator Matt Schanz said.

If close contact and proper isolation and testing can be carried out, NETCHD can see this as a somewhat isolated incident when considering to reopen or keep schools at a remote learning model.

“We are meeting with schools almost hourly,” Schanz said. “Nearly all of them started with a distance learning model which has been great in mitigating case counts so far.”

Artzis said that a stretch of low case counts can lull people into a sense of security, and an outbreak like this can remind people of the risk we are facing in this pandemic. It’s important to stay vigilant with measures such as masks and social distancing. Schanz said there had been a few COVID-19 cases among teachers already even despite the remote learning model and that eventually they expect case counts to go up when schools do re-open.

With the outbreak considered in Stevens County two-week count list, the county has had 15 new cases which bumps up the cases per 100,000 people to 33. This is higher than the 25 per 100,000 threshhold for schools reopening via state guidelines. The health district said that if they can trace contacts and consider this well isolated, then it may not impact their decision as much as just the numbers say.

Meanwhile, Chewelah saw its first case of COVID-19 in several months, bringing the town’s total count since the pandemic began to five. It remains one of the least-impacted towns in the entire NE Tri-County area.

Ferry, Stevens and Pend Oreille Counties remain some of the most-open counties in the state with the Phase 3 designation. Phased reopening, however, was paused months ago by the governor. Schanz mentioned that the state could be looking into reworking or changing the transition plan so some areas could see changes in the state.

“It is an actual conversation in the state as what does it look like as we learn to live with the virus,” Schanz said.

NE Tri County Health District is both working on how the COVID-19 vaccine will be used once it is distributed, while also stressing the need for the flu vaccine this year.
According to the health district, complications can occur to a person’s vital organs if battling both influenza and COVID-19, whether it be simultaneously or in succession. Influenza (flu) and COVID-19 are both contagious respiratory illnesses, but they are caused by different viruses.

COVID-19 can affect multiple organ systems, and the effect of COVID-19 in combination with the flu could cause long-term damage to a person’s health, quality of life and, unfortunately, a person may not fully recover.

With eight new cases of COVID-19 confirmed over the weekend, the NE Washington area has seen 22 new cases in two weeks. The most are from Stevens County due to the outbreak at the assisted living center. Stevens County has since had 18 cases in the past two weeks, while Pend Oreille County has had three and Ferry County one.
A total of 238 cases of COVID-19 have been recorded in NE Washington since the start of the pandemic along with two deaths. Stevens County has had 149 confirmed cases total.

The COVID-19 Tracking Project which takes information manually from state and territorial health districts, is reporting that Washington has seen 82,199 cases of COVID-19 since the beginning of the pademic. There were 597 cases reported on Monday. There are 262 people in the state currently hospitalized because of the virus.
The Washington Department of Health said that the best estimates for the virus reproduction rate is 1.07 for western Washington and .94 for eastern Washington. The DOH’s goal is to have that number well below one which would mean COVID-19 transmission is declining. Because the vast majority of the population does not have immunity to COVID-19, an outbreak can quickly spread through a community and into the most vulnerable populations.

NE Tri County Health, pointed to Whitman County as an example of a possible outbreak as the Pullman area saw a huge boost in case numbers when students returned to the town to go to school. Wildfire smoke hampered abilities for healthcare workers to hold outdoor testing facilities, which minimized testing for a while.

Health officials said they are also looking into using rapid test kits to detect possible cases and then follow up with a more accurate confirmatory test.

The United States has seen over 6.7 million cases of COVID-19 since the pandemic began. Currently, 28,615 people are hospitalized because of the virus, and 191,627 people have died from the virus while 2,590,671 have recovered.

Citing COVID-19 concerns, North Idaho College has decided to cancel this year’s Tri-State wrestling tournament. This is typically one of the largest and most prestigious wrestling tournaments in the Pacific Northwest. The tourney was slated to take place this year on Dec. 18 and 19. It is being rescheduled for Dec. 17 and 18, 2021.

When asked what they thought about the prospects of trick-or-treating events for Halloween, NE Tri-County Health officials said that some neighborhoods in Stevens County have already canceled their halloween plans.

“At the very same time we’re trying to get them back into school, large town gatherings would just lend itself to a lot of risk and exposure,” Artzis said. “Schools are not thrilled about it.”

The Centers for Disease Control recently released guidelines calling Halloween trick-or-treating a “high risk” activity and suggest that people instead stay home for a movie night or do a zoom costume contest.

Other suggestions include prepared candy bags for family units to come by and pick up.

If this newspaper is being honest, we know people will trick or treat unofficially regardless of recommendations, so please remember that both trick-or-treaters and those handing out candy should be wearing a mask,

The Chewelah Independent has seen some projects that are PVC pipes installed on stair railings that could be used to drop candy to trick-or-treaters from a safe distance.
-Minimize your touching and interaction with several different bags of candy as well. Don’t let kids pick their own candy as that is a lot of touching things. This will also reduce slowdowns and bunching of kids at the door.
-Get a flu shot
-Be outside for better airflow and not a bunch of people touching the doorbell

Halloween would still have some social interaction and there is no fullproof way to be a hundred percent protected during unofficial trick-or-treating. If you are in a sensitive group, it might be best just to skip Halloween this year.