Whitman County Gazette - Serving Whitman County since 1877

By Victoria Fowler
Gazette Reporter 

Coronavirus preparation in Whitman County


March 12, 2020

Guests to Whitman Hospital & Medical Center are greeted by a sign at the entrance reminding those with flu-like symptoms to ask for a mask.

As of 4 p.m. Monday, March 9, there have been 162 positive confirmations of the coronavirus in Washington, along with 22 deaths.

While many of these cases are surfacing in western Washington, with the closest positive reported case being Grant County, hospitals and county officials are still taking precautions and making preparations for this virus.

On Monday, at the county commissioner workshop, Whitman County Health Director, Troy Henderson shared with county commissioners what he felt the status of the virus was in the county and how different departments can better prepare.

"I would say there is a high probability that we already have COVID-19 in Whitman County," Henderson said. "I'm hoping we would start getting some test run through this week to get a picture of where we are."

COVID-19 is a novel coronavirus meaning it has not been previously identified. Coronaviruses are a large group of viruses and include the common cold. Most cause mild illnesses; however, they can result in more serious illness such as Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS).

Henderson recommended for individual departments within the county to take the lead on keeping common contact areas in their offices clean and sanitized. Most of these areas include doorknobs and countertops that may have constant traffic.

"If you have public who come in to see you, possibly consider propping your door open just to reduce one more contact point,"

Henderson said. "Anywhere where you can reduce those contact points would be a good idea."

Brandy Dean, facilities management director, said they will be installing more automatic soap dispensers in county buildings that don't already have them. She mentioned that they will also be adding more of the hand sanitizer stations.

"We have ordered extra supplies and have been following Troy's advice on what to do," Dean said. "We have been ordering extra sterilization type products so hopefully we won't run out. We are kind of sticking by the same thing just getting more things in place like propping doors open and things like that."

While deep cleaning may be encouraged, Henderson said it's not as beneficial as it may seem resulting in limiting resources for specific high contact areas.

"It is very likely we have some cases now and I would think the week after spring break we are going to at least see a significant number of worried-well and probable cases," Henderson said.

He mentioned that we may have communities that are already affected and we just don't know it.

"Part of the problem is that we have roughly 80 percent of folks who get it that have low or no symptoms," Henderson said. "You could have quite a bit somewhere and not know it."

Announced on March 6, Whitman County superintendents met with county health officials and made a change to when students can return to school after a fever. Originally, students may return to school after 24 hours of being fever-free. This has now been changed to 72 hours.

Along with county departments and schools, both Whitman Hospital and Medical Center and Pullman Regional Hospital have made preparations for residents who either have questions about the coronavirus or feel they may have symptoms.

Whitman Hospital and Medical


To inform and prepare for any possible coronavirus cases, WHMC provides a page on its website with frequently asked questions regarding the virus.

On the WHMC webpage, it explains how to lessen the chance of getting COVID-19 infection. A few ways to prevent the virus is to cover you cough or sneeze with a tissue and then throw the tissue away, frequently clean and disinfect commonly touched surfaces, avoid contact with those who have flu-like symptoms, etc.

Now at the front of every entrance at WHMC and its clinics, including in Tekoa and St. John, as well as therapy clinics and loading docks, there is a sign advising anyone who enters, who has flu-like symptoms to ask for a mask to wear.

According to the Center for Disease Control, masks should be worn only by those who show symptoms of COVID-19 to help prevent spread of the disease to others.

All registration desks under WHMC will have masks available for those who are experiencing flu-like symptoms.

With information consistently coming out in regards to COVID-19, WHMC sends out daily updates to its staff members so they may stay informed and in turn keep the community informed. Routine meetings are held internally and then passed on to staff and if needed for the community, posted on the WHMC website and Facebook page.

Charlene Morgan, WHMC, chief nursing officer, said precautions are being made at the hospital with having rooms set up for those who may be symptomatic. These rooms are set up to keep those who possible COVID-19 symptoms away from the rest of the population and allow them to be seen by a physician and be tested.

If you have any questions concerning COVID-19, it is encouraged to call your medical provider. If you feel like you need to be seen for possible symptoms, before going to either your medical provider or the hospital, call beforehand and then follow further instruction.

Anyone can be tested for the coronavirus if they feel like symptoms, but they must have a doctor's order beforehand.

For information regarding COVID-19 from WHMC, visit whitmanhospital.org/coronavirus-covid-19-faqs/.

Pullman Regional Hospital

Like WHMC, Pullman Regional Hospital has a page on its website dedicated to questions residents may have regarding the virus.

"Emergency preparedness training is a year-round activity that is done within Pullman Regional Hospital and throughout the state's facilities, system and our region," according to PRH's webpage.

According to the PRH webpage, the hospital regularly treats patients with a variety of infectious diseases. When treating these patients they are isolated and treated in appropriate spaces by trained staff using specialized equipment. At the hospital, there are negative pressure rooms that are used for those with airborne diseases such as the coronavirus.

PRH is working with Whitman County Public Health Department and the Whitman County Emergency Management, along with other entities like Washington State University, Pullman Police Department, Pullman Fire Department, Pullman School District, Whitman Hospital & Medical Center, Pullman Airport to coordinate information and preparedness.

At PRH, it is suggested if you have respiratory symptoms and want to be tested, call your doctor before you leave home so staff can be prepared to care for you when you arrive.

According to the PRH webpage, concern for the coronavirus is warranted because there are no antimicrobials available for this novel coronavirus, so treatment is supportive and symptom-based.

According to Dr. Gerald Early, Chief Medical Officer at Pullman Regional Hospital, for about 80 percent of those infected, it will be like any other cold, for the remaining 20 percent it could be more severe.

For information regarding COVID-19 from PRH, visit info.pullmanregional.org/blog/what-you-need-to-know-about-coronavirus.

To prevent chances of catching the coronavirus, avoid close contact with people who have acute respiratory infections, frequently wash your hands and avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth with unwashed hands.


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