Public Health on outbreak: Be cautious, don’t panic

A day after the Grays Harbor Public Health said two people from the county are suspected of having coronavirus and are being tested for COVID-19, health officials are saying their focus is shifting from the need to identify cases to emphasizing behavior that diminishes the spread of more cases.

“The idea that the only people who have COVID-19 out there are the people who are getting tested is clearly very wrong,” said Karolyn Holden, Director of Grays Harbor Public Health and Social Services.

Neither of the two people suspected of having the virus had any known exposure to anyone with COVID-19 or any history of high-risk travel, Holden said. Wednesday afternoon, health officials were still waiting for the results of tests.

“So like most of the other cases that are popping up now across the state and across the nation, this really is evidence that transmission is occurring in the community. What that suggests is that mild illness is the norm, that most people who have gotten it have not needed to get healthcare, have not been in the hospital and have not been tested. It appears that there are many cases in the community of people just getting a respiratory infection, staying home, getting well and going about their lives,” she said.

“I don’t believe that there’s a ton of importance to getting tested unless you are very ill and your doctor decides that it needs to be done,” she added.

Both of the people who are being tested sought healthcare here within the county and have since been hospitalized outside of the county. There’s every reason to believe that their exposure occurred here, according to Holden.

“Getting care outside the county had nothing to do with the possibility of COVID-19. It had to do with the level of care that they needed,” she said.

When a patient has severe flu-like symptoms and they’re sick enough to be in the hospital, they’re tested for all the more usual respiratory diseases first. Patients are only tested for COVID-19 after all of those routine tests come back negative, Holden explained.

“There’s a lot of mixed-messaging happening right now because our understanding of what’s going on has changed dramatically in the last week because of the way the cases emerged in Washington state, and we’re understanding a lot more about how much of this really is going undetected because people just aren’t sick enough to get healthcare. They think they have the flu or a bad cold,” she said.

“What we really want is for people to do the kind of behaviors that we encourage them to do during every flu season,” she said.

Precautions to take include:

· Stay home when you are sick.

· Stay away from people who are sick with a fever and cough.

· Wash your hands frequently and thoroughly.

· Cover your coughs and sneezes. Throw out used tissues and wash your hands.

· Avoid touching your mouth and eyes.

· Get a flu shot.

· Make plans for what you might do if your child’s school closes.

· Find out your options for sick leave or working remotely if you need to stay home, or care for someone at home.

· Talk with your neighbors and make a plan to help one another if one of you gets sick.