NE Washington seeing disturbing virus trends

(BRANDON HANSEN/Chewelah Independent)

WINTER IS COMING: NE Washington following national trends of more cases, strained healthcare resources and a degree of uncertainty…

The COVID-19 situation has gotten dynamic both nationally and regionally. According to a media briefing by NE Washington Tri-County Health District last Friday, case counts are increasing in the state of Washington and the area, while regional hospitalizations are at their highest levels since the pandemic began.

Stevens County also saw its largest jump in cases in one day with 14 cases being reported on Friday by the health district. Two of those cases were from Chewelah, bringing the pandemic total up to nine cases in this town.

“That was a big lift for our staff dealing with contact tracing for so many cases in one day,” NE Tri-County Health Administrator Matt Schanz said.

While Pend Oreille County has seen a significant drop in their cases per 100K since a previous outbreak is now off the two-week count, it still has the highest rate in NE Washington with 157 cases per 100K. Stevens County has 120 cases per 100K. Ferry County had 64 cases with 100K.

Health officials pointed out that COVID-19 transmission is occuring outside of controlled settings where they believe people are letting their guard down due to “pandemic fatigue.” NE Washington before this time period had been relatively lightly affected by the virus, with low initial case counts and one of the fastest regional reopenings through the state’s guidelines. The area was one of the first to move into the new phases of the state’s reopening plans.

Still, case counts spiked in the summer, and after trailing off have begun to rise. Pend Oreille had a substantial outbreak due to religious gatherings in Idaho, while the Colville area saw outbreaks in the county jail and an assisted living community. General community spread has also gone up. In the past two weeks, there have been 80 new positive tests for COVID-19, 54 of those coming from Stevens County.

Health officials are still recommending that people wear masks, keep gatherings small and outside or avoid gatherings altogether, constant hand washing and for people to remain home when sick. Since October 11, there have been three hospitalizations in Stevens County because of the virus, one in Ferry County and two in Pend Oreille County.

By the metrics the health district uses, these are the largest numbers NE Washington has seen since the start of the pandemic.

“We are very much in the thick of it,” Schanz said.

NE Tri County Health Officer Dr. Sam Artzis said that case counts alone don’t paint the whole picture.

“Hospitals are now looking at their surge plans, and you could now see a shearing down of elective procedures,” Artzis said. “Newport has already had to divert some patients and in general this surge just doesn’t affect COVID-19 patents but non-COVID-19 patients as well.”

Artzis said that a patient needing a vital surgery in NE Washington this week had to wait eight hours for an ambulance and it was a struggle finding an open bed in the Spokane hospital system. Artzis said it’s not a matter of beds but rather the staffing required to oversee these beds.

“The effects of the virus are impacting our first responders and healthcare workers,” Artzis said. “It looks like more and more of our regional medical transportation services are becoming overwhelmed. We dont have an excess of ambulances around here. The healthcare system is currently under the gun.”

Health officials said it was depressing to see people hold and promote gatherings around the area, including something like a hot dog feed, trick-or-treating event or other related gatherings as that will only continue the spread.

“It’s up to us at an individual level now to decide to do what is best,” Schanz said, echoing back to the “flatten the curve” statement that was used heavily in the spring. Schanz said the point of all this is to prevent hospitals from becoming overwhelmed.

“If we tax our system too much, that also effects how we provide non-COVID care,” Artzis said. “Those golden hour times in getting people to the hospital will be affected and people with other issues than just the virus will be at risk.”

One strain on the regional system which is reliant on Spokane hospitals, is that an overwhelmed Idaho system – and Kootenai Health in Couer d’Alene has begun reporting close to capacity percentages – could begin tranferring patients over to the smaller regional hospitals and the Spokane hospitals, further stretching resources.

The state of Idaho recently had to move back a phase in their reopening plan due to a growth in virus numbers. On Tuesday, the state reported 480 new cases and has seen an 9.7 percent increase in cases in the past week. They currently have 263 people hospitalized because of the virus.

“They are going to be looking at our regional hospitals to help them out,” Artzis said. “And it looks as if things will go higher as there is no vaccination yet and no curative medicine. Less people are dying due to better treatment, but hospitalizations are going up the in the country. We have to make sure hospitals are not overwhelmed and there is no quick fix, it comes down to our own behavior.”

The United States has seen over 9,235,000 cases of COVID-19. There has been a 6.8 percent increase in cases in the past week and on Friday there was a reported 82,895 new cases in one day. Currently over 48,400 people are hospitalized and over 9,800 people in intensive care. There have been over 223,000 deaths attributed to the virus.

Washington has seen over 108,300 cases of COVID-19, including 814 new cases reported on Friday in one day. The Evergreen State has seen a 5.2 percent jump in cases in the past week. Over 384 people are hospitalized currently. Washington has seen over 2,356 deaths since the start of the pandemic.

[Editor’s Note: we get our numbers from the COVID Tracking Project which takes the results from state and territorial health districts manually and not from a national database.]