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County health official: No confirmed COVID-19 cases, but spread possible

Test results for two additional PeaceHealth St. John Medical Center patients came back negative for novel coronavirus Tuesday, leaving Cowlitz County with no confirmed cases, according to county health officials.

All three local patients tested for the disease were St. John inpatients who were in isolation pending results, said Randy Querin, PeaceHealth spokesman.

The patients were admitted for underlying medical conditions, not just because they met risk criteria for novel coronavirus (COVID-19) screening, he said.

St. John has a plan for steps it will take if there is a confirmed case, including continuing care for the patient in isolation, Querin said. The hospital has certain rooms set up for isolation that are clearly marked so caregivers follow protocols, including donning and disposing of gloves, masks and booties that might become contaminated.

All caregivers working with the patients would use personal protective equipment, which provide increasing levels of protection from either droplets or airborne contamination, he said.

If the virus spreads in the community, Querin said St. John also has plans at ready that would call for incremental changes, such as restrictions on hospital visitation.

Steven Krager, Cowlitz County deputy health officer, said Tuesday it’s possible the area will see “community transmission,” or the virus spreading from person to person without a history of travel to an affected area. But he said he’s hoping that preventative measures will keep the virus from having a “huge impact.”

“We’re still at the point where we can keep that from being significantly widespread,” Krager said. “If we’re able to find cases quickly, track them down, isolate them and keep track of contacts those patients had, there’s still a chance we can prevent significant community transmission.”

As of Tuesday afternoon, there were 27 confirmed positive cases of COVID-19 in Washington, including nine deaths, according to the state Department of Health. Most of the nine Washington deaths have been at the same Kirkland nursing home.

According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as of Monday, there were 60 cases in the United States.

Comparatively, CDC estimates so far this season there have been 32 million influenza illnesses and 18,000 deaths across the country.

According to the state health department, this influenza season there have been 74 laboratory-confirmed deaths. Last season, there were 245 deaths in Washington.

Krager said there is sustained influenza activity in Cowlitz County, and if someone is sick with a fever and cough, it’s most likely the flu.

Recommended precautions against COVID-19, including frequent hand washing for 20 seconds, covering coughs and sneezes and staying home when sick, are also effective against the flu, Krager said.

“I keep bringing up all these things ... because they actually work,” he said. “There’s good evidence these things that keep people from getting sick from influenza and other viruses will work in this case as well.”

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