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1st COVID-19 positive test in Whatcom County results in new recommendations

FERNDALE, Wash. — Whatcom County Health Department announced this afternoon that a woman in her 60s who received medical care at PeaceHealth St. Joseph’s Medical Center tested positive for COVID-19. “Her condition improved, and she was discharged. Since that time she has been self-isolated at home. She has no known international travel history,” officials said in today’s press release.

Another press release followed shortly after stating Whatcom County Executive Satpal Sidhu, along with the Whatcom County Health Board, declared a Whatcom County public health emergency.

According to that press release, “Declaring an emergency facilitates coordination with local and statewide partners.”

Within that announcement, Whatcom County Health Officer Dr. Greg Stern is quoted as issuing new recommendations intended to slow the spread of COVID-19. They include:

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  • People at higher risk of severe illness should stay home and away from large groups of people as much as possible, including public places with lots of people and large gatherings where there will be close contact with others. This includes concert venues, conventions, sporting events, and crowded social gatherings. People at higher risk include people:
    • Over 60 years of age
    • With underlying health conditions including heart disease, lung disease, or diabetes
    • With weakened immune systems
    • Who are pregnant
  • The community should cancel or postpone non-essential large public gatherings. If you can feasibly avoid bringing large groups of people together, we recommend postponing or canceling events and gatherings. We are loosely defining large gatherings as 10-50 people or more.
  • Workplaces and businesses are encouraged to provide options for their employees to work from home if possible. If they cannot work from home, employees should minimize their interaction with large groups of people.
  • We are not recommending school closures at this time, but school districts may make the decision to close schools. We support them with information and guidance.
    • While we are not recommending targeted or widespread closures at that time, individual districts make the decision to close schools as the situation evolves.
    • Closures can be effective in reducing the spread of disease. However, how effective a closure will be needs to be weighed against the impacts it causes. School closures or dismissals have wide-reaching impacts in the community, and we understand that decisions to close schools must be weighed carefully.

Actions you can take include:

  • Stay home when you are sick.
    • If you have symptoms of a respiratory illness and must go out in public, wear a mask. People who are sick with respiratory symptoms, like a cough or sneezing, should wear a mask in public places to prevent the spread of illnesses to others in the area.
  • Do not go to emergency rooms or urgent care clinics if your illness is mild and can be managed at home. These facilities need to have the ability to serve those who are in most critical need. We also want to limit unnecessary visits to protect health care providers and other patients from catching infections.
  • Even if you are feeling well, avoid visiting hospitals, long-term care facilities or nursing homes. If it is necessary to visit someone there, check on the facility’s rules for visitors before showing up, limit your time there, and stay at least 6 feet away from patients at all times.
  • People who are sick with cough and fever should not attend work until 72 hours after fever has resolved or seven (7) days after the illness began, whichever is longer. We urge employers to maximize flexibility in sick leave benefits to accommodate these measures.

PeaceHealth announced today they have implemented voluntary visitation restrictions at their northwest Washington and Alaskan hospitals, including PeaceHealth St. Joseph Medical Center in Bellingham. According to their press release, “For the safety of our patients, family and caregivers, PeaceHealth is limiting access to the hospital to 1 to 2 essential visitors per patient. These restrictions will remain in place until further notice.”


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