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First PUIs test negative for COVID-19

Plumas County’s approach to the coronavirus went from hypothetical to reality last week when the Public Health Agency announced it had persons under investigation for COVID-19.

According to the health agency: PUIs are persons who meet a certain criteria established by the Federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The criteria include travel history, exposure to known cases and/or symptoms consistent with COVID-19 (fever, cough, difficulty breathing). Depending on criteria met by the PUI, the person may be monitored and/or tested for coronavirus.

On March 5, the agency announced seven persons, but that number dropped to six by the following day. Test results for two of the persons came back negative March 6, and by Monday, March 9, all tests were negative.

“All PUIs have been requested to self quarantine at home, and all have complied,” the agency wrote in response to questions posed by this newspaper. “There are no cases, and currently no established links between PUIs other than travel history.”

That indicates that as of March 9, there were no suspected cases of community spread.

When asked if any of the persons were related to cruise ships, the agency declined to be specific, but said, “Some of the PUIs have returned from travel in locations with known cases of COVID-19.”

Despite multiple attempts to obtain more specific information about where in Plumas County the individuals are being quarantined, the health agency declined to be specific, simply saying they were throughout the county. Health officials said that they are following the models of other northern California counties with PUIs. However, once a case is confirmed, counties have shared locations to alert the public.

While the individuals are being quarantined, public health nurses are in continual contact to monitor their symptoms.

In the schools

Local school officials, including Plumas Unified School District Superintendent Terry Oestreich, Plumas Charter School Executive Director Taletha Washburn and Feather River College President Kevin Trutna, met with Dr. Mark Satterfield, the county’s chief health officer and other public health agency representatives. The group was scheduled to meet again this week.

Oestreich said that she will be working in conjunction with Public Health to determine how any coronavirus outbreak would be handled.

“What happens if we have an outbreak outside of the school,” she said of one scenario, “or what if we have two or so in school?”

Oestreich said that the district has a “pandemic response” listed on page 20 of its emergency handbook. If the schools were to be closed, it would be handled much as it is when schools are forced to close due to weather or power outages.

While closing the schools is a straightforward process, what happens to the instructional component is more complicated.

“The charter school has independent study and we do as well,” she said, but according to recent state information, students can’t be compelled to do perform homework. “That might change,” she added.

As for event cancellation, Oestreich said she will take the situation “one day at a time.”

She added that she felt comforted by the information shared by the health agency and the fact that this virus appears to produce mild symptoms if any at all in children.

Health care districts

Each of the three hospitals in the county has an isolation room should it become necessary to treat a coronavirus patient. All ask that patients contact their local clinics or emergency rooms before arriving at the facilities, so precautions can be taken to protect health care workers and other patients.

At their last board meetings, each of the hospitals reported preparing and training for receiving potential coronavirus patients and ensuring that necessary equipment is available.

Once a patient has been seen, it will be determined what course of action should be taken — from self quarantine to hospitalization.

At this time Satterfield is confident that the local facilities can handle the patient load, but if more beds are necessary, he and other officials are looking at other options.

In the community

Kevin Goss, chairman of the Plumas County Board of Supervisors, said that Public Health has been doing a good job of keeping him and the other board members informed of their efforts and what is happening in the county.

“They have been providing regular updates,” he said, “and I have been pleased with their proactive approach.”

The Public Health Agency is posting informational videos and updated statistics for the county as they become available to its website.

Local businesses are making accommodations for their employees and their customers. Check out next week’s edition of the newspaper to read more about those efforts.

Editor’s note: This will be an ever evolving story, with numbers both locally and nationally changing daily. Go to plumasnews.com for the latest information. During this community health situation, the public will have free access to this information; it won’t be behind the paywall.

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