There is still just one known case of COVID-19 in Grays Harbor County and while that’s still true, county health officials are building plans and systems that would be activated if a surge of cases should come, Karolyn Holden, executive director of the Grays Harbor County Department of Health and Social Services, said at a media briefing Friday.
“We’re taking advantage while we still just have the one case, to get us into a position for when we do have more cases,” she said.
Holden said a rumor based on something posted online circulated last Thursday that the county has eight cases, but that’s false and the poster agreed to take the information down when contacted, she said.
The only known case, a man in his 60s, was announced March 11. Asked if she would have expected more cases by now, she said, “not necessarily, based on what we understood about the person. It appeared to us they had very little potential to expose other people. They just weren’t out and about.” It’s been fortunate there haven’t been more cases, “but I feel like it’s reasonable to think we will get more,” she said. She also said that the more people are tested, the more likely it becomes that other cases will be discovered.
Right now not much testing is being done. The county health department’s highest testing priority is for medical workers and first responders, she said, but even then, only those showing symptoms. She said officials want them tested at the first sign of a symptom so they can be isolated. That group has priority because they have high exposure, a high capacity to infect a large number of people and if many of them get sick, it compromises key systems for responding to an outbreak.
She said her data on how many tests have been done on Grays Harbor is “very incomplete.” Private doctors can order tests for patients showing symptoms and they would be analyzed at private labs and the health department wouldn’t necessarily know. Holden has some of those testing figures, but didn’t have them available Friday. She said the state lab has processed 105 tests from Grays Harbor that she knows of and the March 11 case has been the only positive result. She said her office had facilitated three tests to the state lab this week.
She said she thinks testing locally will eventually be more widespread, but she doesn’t know when that will be. In addition to the testing supplies, it requires resources of protective gear, staff to administer tests and the lab capacity to process them, she said.
Holden’s strongest advice for keeping people healthy is to follow Gov. Inslee’s order to stay home and away from people. County Health Officer Dr. John Bausher reiterated that in a statement Friday. “We are asking people to be part of the solution, not part of the problem,” he said. “Practice social distancing.”
Holden cited the problem of people calling 911 with questions and concerns about COVID when they should be calling the county’s hotline or going to the health department’s website and only calling 911 for a medical emergency.
The website is healthygh.org/covid19 or call the call center at 360-964-1850. The call center is staffed Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. You can also email the call center at email@example.com.
Many of the calls to the hotline have been a case of “anxiety about symptoms, and they want to know how they can get tested,” Holden said.
She’s sympathetic to people wanting tests, but stresses that some people who have it don’t have symptoms and that whether one has a test or not, they should be judging their need for medical treatment based on how they are feeling. “It’s always scary when there’s something you want and there’s not enough of it,” she said.
She said the call center also gets a number of calls from people who see a business or group they think is violating the governor’s orders. Her department doesn’t have the ability to do anything about that, she said. Her best advice is to go directly to the business and let them know it’s wrong and not appreciated.