Washington Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler

Kreidler

The weekend was “pretty light” for new cases of COVID-19, said Meghan DeBolt, director of Walla Walla County Department of Community Health.

Four people were confirmed to have the disease on Saturday, zero on Sunday and one person Monday, DeBolt told Walla Walla County commissioners in a weekly update Monday morning.

Of the overall 827 residents who have had the coronavirus, 760 are labeled as recovered, and 62 people — including two Washington State Penitentiary inmates — have active cases of the illness.

One person is in the hospital, DeBolt said.

The county’s positivity rate is currently 5.4%, she noted.

“Our goal is 2%.”

That number reflects the number of all coronavirus tests performed for Walla Walla County that are actually determined to be positive, times 100%.

According to Johns Hopkins’ School of Public Health, the percent positive will be high if the number of positive test results is too high or if the number of total tests being taken is too low.

“A higher percent positive suggests higher transmission and that there are likely more people with coronavirus in the community who haven’t been tested yet,” the school’s testing information says.

That rate is a critical measure, giving experts like DeBolt an indication of the community spread of the infection and whether levels of testing are keeping up with levels of disease transmission, according to Johns Hopkins.

Washington state’s current median positivity rate is 3.3%; 2% is the statewide goal.

DeBolt said her staff is still watching for any fallout from Labor Day gatherings, as some increases in case numbers came after Father’s Day and then the Fourth of July.

Her hope is that everyone was diligent on that weekend and the downturn continues, she said.

In Washington, health officials Monday reported 312 newly confirmed cases of people with the coronavirus around the state, making a total of 80,138. There were 15 related deaths over the weekend, reaching 2,006 total deaths; 7,098 people have been hospitalized with the disease.

Washington’s insurance commissioner, Mike Kriedler, extended his emergency order again Monday, directing all state-regulated health insurers to continue to cover consumers during the coronavirus pandemic.

The order stays in effect for 30 days and requires health insurers to continue to pay for telehealth medical visits, including through telephone and video chats.

As well, insurers must cover all necessary diagnostic testing for flu and some other viral respiratory illnesses billed during a provider visit for COVID-19 with no copay, coinsurance or deductible.

The rule also applies to drive-up sites offering testing for the coronavirus.

To help free up hospital beds, Kreidler has directed health insurers to waive or expedite prior authorization requirements for home health care or long-term care facility services, so as to to speed up discharging patients who are ready to leave.

“This continues to be a critical time for all Washingtonians, and we need to provide safe and flexible access to care,” Kreidler said.

“During this unprecedented time, people should not have to worry about their insurance coverage.”

Umatilla County’s Public Health officials said there are 34 more residents with positive test results for COVID-19, including numbers from the weekend.

Six residents are hospitalized, but not necessarily within the county, officials said.

There have been 2,716 people in Umatilla County with the virus overall, including 41 people who have died.

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Sheila Hagar can be reached at sheilahagar@wwub.com or 509-526-8322.

Sheila Hagar has written for the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin since 1998. Sheila covers health, social services and city government in Milton-Freewater, Athena and Weston in the Walla Walla Valley.