March 3, 2020
For Immediate Release
Thomas Locke, MD, MPH, Jefferson County Health Officer
Jefferson County Public Health
360-385-9400 Main Clinic
Situation Report: As anticipated, the SARS-CoV-2 virus, the causative agent of the disease known as COVID-19, continues its worldwide spread. Lab testing has been extremely limited in the U.S. until Friday, February 28, when federal testing restrictions were relaxed in Washington State. As of today, there are 27 confirmed cases including 9 deaths in Washington State. All cases are in King and Snohomish Counties and it is likely that the infection has been circulating in those areas for several weeks.
Symptoms of COVID-19: Most people who have COVID-19 have very mild common cold-like symptoms or may have no signs of illness at all. Around 20% have more severe influenza-like illness with fever, cough, and shortness of breath. Of these, some will develop severe illness requiring hospitalization and advanced medical care. There is no antiviral medication available to treat COVID-19. Several drugs are being tried experimentally for hospitalized patients. Treatment for the non-critically ill involves rest, fluids, and symptomatic treatment (fever reducers, cough medicines). Most people can be treated at home and recover within the first 1-2 weeks.
Public Health Response: We are learning more about the SARS-CoV-2 virus with each passing day. We know that it is more contagious than the influenza virus and that many people who become infected have very mild symptoms or no symptoms at all. These two factors make complete containment of the virus virtually impossible. Gradual spread will occur throughout Washington State, including Jefferson County. It is important that we slow this spread and limit the total number of people who are exposed with the highest priority given to protecting those most likely to experience serious complications and the health care workers who care for them. Slowing the spread of COVID-19 allows us to preserve the limited capacity of our health care system to see community members in need of medical care.
Testing for COVID-19: Testing is now available at the Washington State Public Health Lab and is still very limited (30-40 tests per day). It will be expanded significantly in the days and weeks ahead. The University of Washington and other labs will have testing capacity in the very near future as well. Currently, testing is limited to people who are ill and have been exposed to a known case of COVID-19 or have travelled to countries where widespread community transmission is occurring (China, South Korea, Japan, Iran, and Italy) and are ill enough to require hospitalization. Hospitalized patients with severe respiratory disease of unknown cause are also being tested.
Community Response: Communicable disease pandemics require active participation of all community members. These are our current recommendations:
Do not go to the emergency room unless it is essential. Emergency rooms need to be able to serve those with the most critical needs. If you are experiencing symptoms like cough, fever, and other respiratory problems, contact your regular health care provider for advice. In many cases, you will not need to be seen and home self-care will be your best option.
Stay home if you are sick. Children should not be sent to school; adults should not go to work if they are ill.
Practice optimal person hygiene habits, including coughing into tissue or the elbow and avoidance of touching your eyes, nose, or mouth unless your hands are freshly washed or sanitized. Washing your hands before touching and eating food is also important.
Stay away from people who are ill, especially if you are 60 years of age or older or have an underlying health condition such as diabetes, heart disease, lung disease, or a weakened immune system.
Stay informed. Information is changing frequently. Check the Jefferson Public Health Website (Jeffersoncountypublichealth.org), Washington State Department of Health (doh.wa.gov), and Public Health-Seattle King County (kingcounty.gov/COVID) on a daily basis for updates.
The Big Picture: Human history has been powerfully shaped by communicable disease outbreaks. The emergence of the SARS-CoV-2 virus in central China and the expanding outbreak of COVID-19 disease is part of this historical process. The great majority of people who experience this infection will have mild symptoms, or no symptoms at all, will recover and likely be immune from further infection. Those who become more seriously ill will need medical care. We will be challenged to provide this care, reserving hospital resources for the sickest and mobilizing families and neighbors to take care of most people in a home setting (as we do with influenza every year). After a period of months, this outbreak will pass. Quelling rumors, avoiding panic, working together as a community to support and protect each other is more important than ever. Jefferson County Public Health serves a wide range of community members and has a lead role in coordinating Pandemic Response in Jefferson County. We are working diligently to mobilize a community response to the COVID-19 outbreak and I am confident that, as a community, we will successfully meet the many challenges that lay ahead.
Jefferson County Public Health
Always Working for a Safer and Healthier Community