January 30, 2020

How Washington providers responded to the US' 1st coronavirus case

Daily Briefing

    The first U.S. case of coronavirus was confirmed in Washington state last week, and public health officials and providers relied on lessons learned from past outbreaks to safely and quickly respond to the case.

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    How Washington handled the first US coronavirus case.

    According to CDC, as of Monday, there have been five confirmed cases of the Wuhan coronavirus in the United States: two in California, one in Illinois, one in Arizona, and the first case, which occurred in Washington. 

    The patient, a man in his 30s, had traveled to Wuhan at the end of 2019 and fell ill shortly after returning to the United States. 

    The patient visited a local health clinic in Seattle. Once health workers discovered he'd recently visited Wuhan and could be at risk of the new coronavirus, they sent him to Providence Regional Medical Center in Snohomish County, where he was treated in isolation. For the official diagnosis, local health care workers turned to CDC headquarters in Atlanta, where researchers have developed a diagnostic test for the virus.

    At the same time, local health agencies began identifying the more than 60 people who had come in contact with the patient before he was hospitalized. Public health workers in the state call those individuals daily to see if they are developing a fever, cough, or other symptoms of the new coronavirus.

    How Washington is dealing with the case

    So far, no one else in the state has fallen ill and the state Department of Health said the patient is in "satisfactory" condition—and public health officials say that's in part to measures put in place after the 2014 Ebola scare and the state's recent measles outbreak. 

    Amy Compton-Phillips, the chief clinical officer at Providence St. Joseph Health, which runs the hospital treating the coronavirus patient, said the hospital became equipped to treat patients with high-level infectious pathogens during the 2014 Ebola outbreak.

    "All types of infrastructure had been put in place to ensure that when something came around we'd be ready," she said. For instance, the hospital contains airborne precautions for clinicians, specialized gurneys to keep patients in isolation as they're transported throughout the hospital, robots that can take blood pressure and listen to patients' lungs, and rooms with negative-pressure airflow, which prevents germs from circulating throughout the rest of the hospital.

    Tové Skaftun, CNO for the Community Health Center of Snohomish County, also said dealing with the measles outbreak that sickened 87 people in the area last year helped local health workers in Snohomish feel prepared to address the unique case. While the measles outbreak largely occurred in Clark County, Washington, all efforts to contain the illness were applied statewide, Stone writes.

    That outbreak, also required public health officials to trace potential contacts, but on a much larger scale. With only one confirmed case of coronavirus in Washington, Janet Baseman, a professor of epidemiology at the University of Washington, said it will be easier for public health professionals to identify potential contacts.

    In addition to calling known contacts, Snohomish County took additional measures to identify patients who could have the virus. For instance, the Community Health Center of Snohomish County, posted signs in the waiting room instructing patients to notify health staff if they believe they could've been exposed to the virus.

    "We do have patients [who] are calling in, and we do have patients [who] are talking about it with their provider staff," Skaftun said.

    The measles really kind of enlightened everybody about 'Wow, there are a lot of things out there that can be really contagious and can get you really sick, really fast,'" Skaftun said. "We've recently grown our infection-control program so it's kind of at the forefront of a lot of what we do," she added (Stone, Kaiser Health News, 1/28).

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