Testing ramping up in the county
Now there are three — at least as of Monday, April 6.
Plumas County’s first confirmed case of COVID-19 was announced March 31 — a resident of Eastern Plumas who was taken to St. Mary’s Regional Medical Center in Reno for treatment.
Two days later on April 2, a household contact of the first confirmed case, also tested positive.
Then, on April 4, an Indian Valley resident was confirmed to test positive for COVID-19 making him or her the third positive case in Plumas County.
Him or her? Which community? Where have they been? With each new confirmed case, the public has more questions, but Plumas County Public Health can give few answers, citing a patient’s right to privacy.
Public Health Director Andrew Woodruff understands the frustration. During an April 2 interview he said that his office has been receiving numerous calls from area residents wanting specific information.
“We are receiving many, many calls,” he said and then discussed his agency’s new phone system, which transfers the calls to the individuals who can best provide the answers. And while they are able to provide a lot of information, it’s still not the specific details about the confirmed cases.
Plumas County’s tests jumped dramatically last week – going from 54 on March 31 to 127 on April 4.
The jump can be attributed partially to the necessity to test those around confirmed cases, and also that Plumas District Hospital has begun testing its employees, expecting to test 40 over a two-day period.
The hospital’s chief executive, JoDee Read, said the testing was being done to “ensure the safety of one another and our patients.”
Dr. Jeff Kepple said that the hospital actually tested 52 health care workers last week and expected the results April 7 (after this newspaper went to press.)
“We are testing to provide a large sample of front line people who are in the community,” he said. “We believe we need to do more testing. We have the ability to nip this in the bud in hot spots. The only way to get a handle on this is to test a lot and to test early.”
Read said she was working with other hospitals as they also begin testing staff.
Woodruff said that his agency is working closely with the hospitals to prioritize the use of the tests that the county has.
As for how long it takes to receive test results, Woodruff said it depends on the type of test and where it is sent, but usually two to five days.
What if it’s positive?
When Public Health receives confirmation of a positive case, it notifies the patient’s care provider and then the patient.
And that’s when the tracing begins. “We need to know about the patient’s comings and goings for the last 14 days,” Woodruff said.
A team has been established to interview the patient and then subsequently those who are determined to have close contact with the individual. Woodruff described it as a “ripple” as the screening process and testing continues outward from the initial patient.
The focus is on close household and work contacts and then others that may be deemed at risk.
Patients are monitored daily as to their status. As of Saturday, April 4, all three patients were recovering at home in isolation, but Woodruff cautioned that statuses can change quickly.
“We’ve reorganized the entire department with regard to the response structure,” Woodruff said. The county’s disaster declaration allows staff to work out of their job classifications and placed where they are needed.
And it’s not just public health, various county departments are involved in the response.
Woodruff said that guidance is changing, but it is now being recommended that face masks be used in public. However, he cautions that they should not give the wearer a false sense of security.
The health benefit comes in helping to prevent transmission from an asymptomatic person.
“What we are all doing is so critical — social distancing,” Woodruff said, “moving about for essential needs only.”
He said that the public has been “doing a fantastic job,” but now is a chance to improve even more.
There are certain things that people must do — such as obtain groceries, pick up medicines, he said, and his agency is available to assist those who cannot do so on their own. Anyone requiring assistance in obtaining essentials, may call 283-6400.
There are people in the COVID response structure dedicated to providing assistance, and thus far 140 people have been helped.
Woodruff also mentioned the assistance given to the delivery of meals to homebound seniors. Before the stay-at-home order, that numbered 100; now they are delivering 240 meals and have expanded to Chilcoot.
“I think we will all get better at this,” Woodruff said of both the official and community response to dealing with the threat of COVID-19.
Woodruff is working with other health departments throughout the rural north state to identify resources.
“Our hospitals all have surge plans in the north,” he said, including help from the federal and state governments.