Yakima County had 53 cases of COVID-19 as of Wednesday afternoon, according to the Yakima Health District.

The number of cases was up from 41 on Tuesday.

Yakima Health District spokeswoman Lilian Bravo said that the number of confirmed cases were not indicative of the actual spread of the virus through the Yakima County community.

“This just goes to show the nature of the disease. We’re going to continue seeing those numbers going up,” Bravo said of the rise in cases overnight. “We can safely say that the spread is much higher than what we’re seeing.”

Of the current COVID-19 cases in Yakima County so far, one individual was hospitalized and has since been released. The others recovered at home, Bravo said. She said this was indicative of the proportion of mild or moderate cases likely to be seen with the virus, but emphasized it is important to prevent the spread of the virus to protect those who would experience severe symptoms.

High-risk individuals include those over the age of 60, those who are pregnant or are immunocompromised.

There has been one death from the virus in Yakima County so far.

Kittitas and Klickitat counties had six cases each as of Wednesday morning. Kittitas County sent out information Wednesday morning correcting a case count error in a state Department of Health report Tuesday.

Yakima County is anticipating at least 1,000 new test kits in the coming days, said Bravo.

Within Virginia Mason Memorial, testing will remain focused on seniors in the two nursing centers with confirmed cases, hospital patients with severe symptoms and health care workers, said Dr. Tanny Davenport, head of quality and safety at the hospital. He added that the hospital hopes to pursue more widespread testing in the future to better identify and isolate individuals with COVID-19.

Here’s what else you need to know:

What are the main symptoms of the virus?

There are many, but the main ones are fever or cough, said Davenport. Others include sore throat, aching muscles or shortness of breath. Most patients should stay home if they have these symptoms. If you’re experiencing shortness of breath, call a medical provider for advice.

Some people experience waves of symptoms, meaning they may feel better before another onset, said Davenport. Because of that, if you have symptoms, you may be contagious for as many as 72 hours after symptoms subside without medicine, he said.

What should individuals be doing to help prevent the spread of the virus?

Start acting as if you may already have COVID-19, since officials are sure the local spread is beyond what positive tests show, Bravo said. That means follow the stay-at-home order issued indefinitely in Yakima County. Stay home unless you need to purchase food or groceries, obtain medical care, pick up medications or go on a walk. If you do need to go out in public, maintain social distance of at least 6 feet between yourself and others.

You are encouraged to go into your yard, go on a hike or go on a walk, Bravo said. But maintain appropriate and safe distance. Keep in mind that you or the person around you may have already been exposed to the virus.

Wash your hands frequently. Sanitize surfaces frequently. If you are still going to work, don’t go in if you feel sick.

What’s the latest on local testing?

There aren't enough tests in Yakima County to meet demand right now, Bravo said. Because of this, high risk-individuals, health care workers and first responders are the priority for local testing so far. Since testing is not yet widespread, “We can safely say that the spread is much higher than what we’re seeing,” she said.

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The state Department of Health confirmed that Yakima County is receiving at least 1,000 test kits in the next few days, and the health district is continuing to request more to “fully capture the actual spread of the disease in our community,” Bravo said.

Davenport of Memorial echoed her, saying the hospital "will deploy widespread testing as soon as our supplies allow."

He said testing early and often for the virus and responding to testing results by isolating and monitoring individuals who have come into contact with confirmed cases could significantly reduce the spread of the virus.

Is the virus slowing down in our community?

There’s not enough data yet to answer that. Bravo said cases are expected to continue increasing.

“We’re at the very beginning of this COVID-19 response, so we’re just beginning to see these cases ramp up, and this is going to be something we see in our community for some time to come,” said Bravo.

What’s the latest with the two nursing homes with positive cases?

Officials from the state Department of Health are in Yakima County, helping the health district provide guidance to the two long-term facilities where people tested positive. New and more frequent symptom monitoring measures are being implemented among residents and staff, including COVID-19 testing.

Do health care workers have enough personal protective equipment?

There’s a shortage of personal protective equipment not only locally, but at a national and global level, Bravo said. The state Department of Health has been advocating on behalf of the Yakima community to get more resources here, since the local health care system is particularly vulnerable to being overwhelmed by the virus.

Memorial has enough supplies to meet current needs but is concerned about the near future and is working to conserve personal protective equipment like masks and gowns, Davenport said. Some community members have begun sewing masks to donate, while others have donated medical masks, he said. The hospital has also partnered with a local distillery to help make up for a shortage of hand sanitizer. Davenport said the hospital welcomed support like this, “because we need those supplies and it’s not clear to us how long this is going to last.”

What efforts has Memorial made in response to the virus?

Memorial launched a COVID-19 evaluation clinic that has provided medical advice or testing to over 1,000 patients in the last 10 days, Davenport said. For individuals who are pregnant, prenatal visits with OB-GYNs can also be done by car, including an exam and having a provider listen to fetal heart tones. The hospital has also launched telehealth visits, allowing patients to meet with providers via video or audio to get medical care.

Are there any updates on the potential use of the former Astria Regional Medical Center for COVID-19 response?

Discussions remain at the state level. Bravo said the health district realizes this is a question of great concern in the community and said information would be announced when it is available.

Are there volunteer opportunities for community members?

Hospital visitors have been limited due to the virus, so the best way to contribute to places like Memorial is to donate any personal protective equipment you have and stay home to prevent the spread of the virus, Davenport said. As new needs arise, they will be posted to the hospital’s website.

Is it still safe to order food for take-out or delivery from restaurants?

Yes, it’s still safe. Home cooking is the best recommendation from the health district. But countless local restaurants are open for take-out or delivery and are following protocols and safety precautions. They are considered safe.

 

Reach Janelle Retka at jretka@yakimaherald.com or on Twitter: @janelleretka