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With second local COVID-19 case, Health Department clarifies notification process

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Walla Walla County Department of Community Health
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The Department of Community Health is working to identify anyone who may have had contact with the second Walla Walla County resident to test positive for the COVID-19 coronavirus.

The patient is a woman in her 20s, health officials announced Tuesday. She is under home isolation for 14 days and until she is fever-free for 72 hours, officials said.

The case came three days after Walla Walla County’s first confirmed case was announced. Health officials last Saturday said a man in his 40s was also in home isolation after testing positive.

Walla Walla County Department of Community Health Director Meghan DeBolt said that number is only expected to grow. Likely many more exist already, which is why it’s important to limit contact, she said.

In Tuesday’s announcement DeBolt acknowledged the desire from the public to know more information about the patients in order to determine whether individuals may be at increased risk.

“We understand our community wants details about each case,” she said. “However, we will not report on the exact location of the case. We want the community to know that we are doing a thorough investigation, instructing each case and contact to stay home under isolation, and we are calling them daily for monitoring purposes.”

During the College Place City Council meeting Tuesday night, Fire Chief David Winter said the patient whose case was confirmed last week is a College Place man who had been working in Pendleton. He had no other details in his update to Council.

DeBolt said neither patient attended a large party, gathering or event within the time of infection. Had that been the case, the organizer of the event would be notified, as well as those in attendance. Notifications also go to employers and schools where relevant.

She said it is possible both patients interacted in the community a few days before their symptoms developed.

“We have discovered both cases had symptoms pretty quickly after they were exposed, thus they quickly were seen by a doctor and isolated at home once they were being tested,” DeBolt said.

She said an individual can have COVID-19 without having symptoms, but spread the virus, for up to two weeks.

In the intense case investigation conducted by the Health Department, the patient outlines every person they have seen and every place they have been over the previous two weeks. Sometimes the department goes back three weeks if travel is involved, DeBolt said.

All contacts of the patients are notified of their potential exposure and instructed to home isolate for 14 days if they do not have symptoms.

If they do have symptoms, then they are sent to the doctor to be tested for COVID-19. Those being tested are told to home isolate until results come back.

The virus is spread through droplet transmission, which is why health officials are telling people to maintain social distance, as well as cover their coughs and sneezes, avoid touching their faces, and regularly clean surfaces.

According to the Health Department’s site, 191 people are under investigation for COVID-19. Test results for 163 residents have returned negative.

Patients are being tested for COVID-19 if they have a fever, cough, recent shortness of breath and have already tested negative for influenza, she said.

A nasopharyngeal swab is taken and sent to the public health lab in Shoreline, Wash., for a 48-hour turn-around time or to a commercial lab for a two-to- six-day turn-around time, she said.

There was a bottleneck for testing about two weeks ago, DeBolt said. With streamlining and more labs coming on line, the time for results is decreasing.

A shortage of “viral transport medium” or small tubes, is affecting the number of tests available, she said. This is the medium the specimen is shipped in.

There is a national shortage of this and all healthcare providers, including Providence St. Mary Medical Center, have put in emergency orders through the Walla Walla County Emergency Management Department to the Washington state Emergency Management Department.

Chloe LeValley can be reached at chloelevalley@wwub.com or 509-526-8326.

Chloe LeValley covers civic engagement in the Walla Walla Valley including city governments, county commissioners and other civic groups. She is a recent graduate from San Francisco State University and came to join our team in October 2019.

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