Still no word on test results from COVID-19 test sent from Spokane

The Spokane Regional Health District still had not received the results of a COVID-19 coronavirus test for a Spokane "person under investigation" from the Gonzaga University community as of Wednesday, March 4, despite the fact that the test was taken on Saturday.

A health district spokesperson was not able to say why the result, originally expected within one to three days, was not in yet, but said the district had been updated on Tuesday that it could take another 48 hours to 72 hours to get the result back.

Staffers helping triage calls on the Department of Health's media line also could not answer how long tests at the state lab were expected to take.

As of 11 am Wednesday, Washington had 39 confirmed COVID-19 cases, with 10 deaths, and all confirmed cases coming from King County and Snohomish County. There were also 231 people under public health supervision who were at risk of having been exposed to the virus.

While the Public Health Laboratory in Shoreline has the capacity to test up to 100 tests per day, the Department of Health posted more information on its website Wednesday indicating the lab is not yet testing that many samples each day.

"We recognize that more should be done to increase our ability to test people in Western Washington, due to the increase in community spread. We can’t do that alone, so we’re bringing other partners online to help. We are working with the University of Washington Virology Lab to ramp up capacity to test for COVID-19 as well. This will increase our overall capacity to test people and this capacity will continue to grow.

We acknowledge that although the laboratory test is available and becoming more broadly available, there are limitations in our public health and healthcare systems’ capacity to obtain samples from people as rapidly as we would like."
However, DOH assistant public information officer Danielle Koenig tells the Inlander by email Wednesday afternoon, "Our website does not say we are not at full capacity. We currently have capacity to test for up to 100 people per day at the state public health lab. While I can’t say how many tests per day we are running, I do know we do not have a backlog. We are working to add additional capacity by working with UW to test for the virus as well. This will increase our overall capacity to test people."

University of Washington Medicine announced Wednesday it expected to start testing 1,000 COVID-19 samples per day.

Koenig also tells the Inlander, "Unfortunately, I don’t have information on a test from Spokane."

For the many people asking why they can't get tested, the Department of Health says not everyone needs to get tested.

Currently, guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention limit who may get tested. They include those who traveled to places known to have the virus, people who have had direct contact with someone known to have it, and those who have been hospitalized with flu-like but unexplained symptoms. That was expanded Wednesday to also include people whose doctor agrees they need to be tested based on their symptoms.

Meanwhile, if you're sick and think you may have COVID-19, the health department recommends staying home and calling your doctor for further advice. Symptoms include fever, cough and shortness of breath, but if you have not been around someone with a confirmed diagnosis, the health department still says the chances you have COVID-19 are low.

"If you do not have a high-risk condition and your symptoms are mild, you do not need to be evaluated in person and do not need to be tested for COVID-19," a Department of Health fact sheet explains. "There are currently no medications to treat COVID-19."

King County Executive Dow Constantine hosted a news conference Wednesday afternoon to offer an update on their response as the county that is home to the majority of cases and deaths that have been confirmed in the state as related to this coronavirus.

King County owns one site where it can put modular units to house people under quarantine, and it also obtained two more where patients who are being treated for the virus can be housed in isolation, including a motel in Kent.

"We are dealing with the most serious outbreak of COVID anywhere in the nation," Constantine says. "We are committed to returning our community to normal as quickly as possible."

click to enlarge Still no word on test results from COVID-19 test sent from Spokane
Dow Constantine
As a precaution, King County as a large employer is opting to have all workers who can telecommute do so for the next three weeks, Constantine says, and the county will cancel all nonessential events over the next three weeks before reassessing the situation. The county will have to deal with the developing equity issue, he says, as many public servants must do their work in person, such as bus drivers.

"We are committed to ensuring those that are forced to report to work can stay safe and can stay healthy while serving the public," Constantine says.

King County's health officer is also recommending but not requiring that the businesses that can do so allow their workers to telecommute for the next few weeks as well. However, it is not recommended that schools close at this time, as children are not considered at high risk for this particular virus.

Spokane County is currently still considered to have a very low risk to the general public according to the Spokane Regional Health District, so the county government is not currently changing its operations.

In the meantime, Spokane County is evaluating its emergency preparedness plans for every department and keeping an eye toward the health district, Department of Health, and the Centers for Disease Control for guidance as things progress, explains Spokane County spokesman Jared Webley. The health district would be the one to make recommendations on canceling large events, but that has not been done at this point in time.

"At this time Spokane County is following the lead of the Spokane Regional Health District," Webley says. "While this is a very serious situation, we are just following the lead of the health district at this point so we don’t prematurely cause any kind of negative impact."

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About The Author

Samantha Wohlfeil

Samantha Wohlfeil covers the environment, rural communities and cultural issues for the Inlander. Since joining the paper in 2017, she's reported how the weeks after getting out of prison can be deadly, how some terminally ill Eastern Washington patients have struggled to access lethal medication, and other sensitive...