Public Health: Clark County COVID-19 case had not traveled recently

A small number of people had contact with the man in his 70s, currently in isolation at PeaceHealth Southwest

VANCOUVER — While the identity of a man in his 70s who is the first confirmed case of COVID-19 in Clark County is not being released, Public Health Officer Dr. Alan Melnick says the man had not recently traveled to areas where the infection is known to be.

“This positive test result tells us the virus is circulating in Clark County,” Melnick said. “Now more than ever we should all be taking steps to protect ourselves and others from illness.”

The positive test result came back late Friday night. Two other tests came back negative for the new virus, which has been spreading across the globe since first being discovered in Wuhan, China last December.

Nationwide, the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases neared 250 on Sunday, prompting the cancellation of numerous events, including the popular SXSW festival in Austin, Texas.

On Saturday, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo issued a state of emergency, as cases in that state neared 80. Florida also announced two deaths from COVID-19. In Washington State, a dozen deaths are blamed on the outbreak, most from an adult care center in the city of Kirkland.

Clark County Public Health says they have made contact with a small number of people who had direct contact with their lone confirmed case, asking that they remain in isolation for at least 14 days following their most recent contact with him.

The county has five other tests outstanding at the state public health lab in Shoreline, Washington. Five more people who recently traveled to areas with known infections remain under observation.

“All our caregivers and providers involved in this case followed recommended protocols to keep our patients, families and fellow caregivers safe,” said PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Group in a press release.

The county says, unlike with the measles outbreak in 2018 and 2019, they won’t be releasing information about where infected people have been.

“Without close contact with an infected person, you are at extremely low risk of contracting COVID-19,” said Dr. Alan Melnick, Clark County health officer and public health director.

COVID-19 is spread through close contact (within 6 feet) and via respiratory droplets when someone coughs or sneezes, similar to how influenza spreads. It is not spread the same way as measles, which is airborne and can linger in the air for several hours. For this reason, Melnick says, listing places where a person with COVID-19 has been is not effective.

A COVID-19 test kit. Image courtesy Centers for Disease Control
A COVID-19 test kit. Image courtesy Centers for Disease Control

All of the people awaiting test results have been held in isolation at area hospitals, according to Public Health.

“PeaceHealth is prepared to meet the needs of our communities,” the hospital group said. “We have already implemented a number of processes in all our hospitals and clinics to ensure the safety of our patients and caregivers, including screening protocols to identify patients who may be at risk for COVID-19 infection, and health department-recommended isolation processes and testing procedures.”

Everyday practices to prevent colds, influenza and other respiratory illnesses can also protect people against COVID-19.

  • Wash hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. When soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60 percent alcohol.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth with unwashed hands. 
  • Cover coughs and sneezes. Use a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash and wash your hands.
  • Stay home and away from others when sick.
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Clean and disinfect objects and surfaces that are frequently touched.

Public Health is not recommending any additional precautions to protect against COVID-19 and is not recommending any restrictions on public events or gatherings at this time.

COVID-19 symptoms

The most common symptoms of COVID-19 are fever, cough and shortness of breath. Symptoms may appear in as few as two days or as long as 14 days after exposure.

If you experience mild symptoms, stay home while ill. Do not go to work, school or public areas. If you need medical care, call your provider in advance so the medical office can take steps to prevent exposing others.

If you have symptoms but have not been around anyone with COVID-19, the likelihood that you have COVID-19 is low. These symptoms are similar to symptoms caused by other respiratory illnesses circulating in our community, including influenza.

There currently is no specific treatment for COVID-19.

Those who have questions about COVID-19 can call The Washington State Department of Health novel coronavirus call center 6 am to 10 pm daily at 1.800.525.0127.

The Clark County Public Health novel coronavirus webpage has additional information about the virus, what’s happening in Clark County and how people can protect themselves from illness.

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