The trajectory of the coronavirus epidemic lies in the hands of the community itself.
That is according to Dr. Tom Locke, Jefferson County’s Public Health officer, who says Gov. Jay Inslee’s order demanding Washingtonians stay at home is absolutely necessary.
“If people don’t take this seriously, the consequences will be dire,” Locke said.
Washington state has surpassed 2,000 cases with more than 100 deaths, and Jefferson County now has evidence of community-transmission of COVID-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus.
One more case was confirmed on March 24. There are now nine cases of COVID-19 in Jefferson County—two of which were caused by “in-county” exposure.
A critically-ill man in his 40s was transferred to a Seattle-area hospital for intensive care late in the day on March 21. Jefferson County Public Health determined he was likely exposed to the virus within the community, marking the second case of in-county transmission.
“This case offers a stark reminder that coronavirus can cause life-threatening illness in people younger than 60 years of age,” Locke wrote in a press release.
A number of Jefferson County residents have been exposed to these confirmed cases and have been placed in 14-day quarantine.
Jefferson County Public Health and Jefferson Healthcare are doing everything they can to test patients and notify those who have been in contact with the virus as soon as possible. But the limited number of testing supplies makes it impossible to test as many people as necessary.
“We’re doing a lot more than most rural counties are able to,” Locke said. “We’re lucky that the hospital had a stockpile of specimens kits. But we have to conserve those. If we run out, we can’t get them replaced.”
The hospital must follow state criteria and only test those who have COVID-19 symptoms.
“Supplies are in a critical state,” said Amy Yaley, director of public relations for Jefferson Healthcare. “Centralizing screening and testing allows us to minimize our Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) use. Eliminating non-emergency surgery helps as well. We are still receiving supplies but they don’t exceed the amount we are using.”
Right now, the hospital has adequate supplies, Yaley said. But if the number of patients increases, the supplies they have will not be enough.
The hospital has averaged 42 tests per day.
Due to the limits on testing, there are likely many more cases than actually confirmed, Locke said.
“Some people are using the model that states there are at least 10 times as many as you test for,” he said. “It’s a lot of guesswork. The truth is, we simply don’t know.”
It is up to residents of Jefferson County to stay home whether healthy or sick, whether they have been tested, or not, to stop the spread of the virus.
Willie Bence, director of emergency management, described this as the “paradox of preparedness.”
“Ideally, we’ll take steps that, in hindsight, seem like overprepardeness,” he said.
But those steps will save lives.
Locke said the state will be able to determine if community mitigation measures such as staying home is having an effect within two to three weeks.
This will “flatten the curve,” and prevent a large surge of people needing hospital care.
“Twenty percent of people with the virus will need some level of hospital care,” Locke said. “These community mitigation measures protect the high-risk community members that Jefferson County has an abundance of.”
Those experiencing symptoms should call Jefferson Healthcare’s COVID-19 hotline: 360-344-3094.
Consult line staff is available seven days a week from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Initially, phone staff will ask you basic COVID-19 information screening questions. Then, a nurse will call back within 48 hours to evaluate respiratory illness health concerns and screen for COVID-19 testing. If the nurse determines a test is needed, an appointment will be scheduled at either the COVID-19 Evaluation Station or the Drive-Through Testing Station, based on Jefferson Healthcare’s current, established criteria.
“Our drive-through testing station allows us to test high numbers of community members quickly, minimize exposure and minimize PPE usage,” Yaley said.
The biggest issue the hospital faces right now is the wait time for test results because testing labs are overwhelmed.
“This is not the time for vacation travel, flocking to public beaches, congregating unnecessarily in groups or visiting elderly friends and family,” Locke said.