First COVID-19 case confirmed in Island County

— Created March 10, 2020 by Kathy Reed

By Kathy Reed/Whidbey Weekly

Island County has its first case of Coronavirus. In a press release Tuesday afternoon, Island County Public Health (ICPH) officials confirmed an Island County resident has tested positive for COVID-19.

According to the release, the individual is a man in his 50s and is being cared for at a location outside of Island County.

“Island County Public Health is working with local response partners to identify and contact all those who may have come in close contact with this cas,” stated the release. “These individuals will be guided to monitor themselves for fever and respiratory symptoms for 14 days following their last exposure.”

And, in a statement sent to parents by Oak Harbor Public Schools Tuesday afternoon, it was announced the man who has tested positive for the virus is the parent of an Oak Harbor High School student. The student has no symptoms and will remain out of school until they are tested for COVID-19 and cleared. Oak Harbor schools will remain open, according to the release.

“The Department of Health, Island County Public Health, Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI), and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend our schools remain open and close for deep cleaning only when there is a confirmed case with a student or staff member,” the message said. “We do not have a staff member or student with a confirmed case of COVID-19. Should a student or staff member test positive for COVID-19, we will close that school for sanitizing. We will continue to take guidance from Island County Public Health as we receive further information.

“Our district is following the recommendations of our various government health agencies and making changes as new guidance emerges,” the statement continued. “We are communicating at least daily with public health officials for updates. We are reviewing daily briefings from a variety of educational and public health agencies.”

The statement said the district has added full-time custodians and has upgraded the sanitizing spray used in all classrooms. Staff members have been directed to sanitize frequently-touched surfaces regularly and buses are being sanitized before and after each route. After-school clubs and athletic practices held at the school will continue for the time being, although students are strongly encouraged to limit contact with peers. 

As for the general public, ICPH suggests practicing social distancing to help reduce the risk of exposure.

“Stay at least 6 feet away from each other, especially if someone may be sick,” said the release from ICPH. “Coughs and sneezes can travel this distance, and their droplets may contain a virus. This may include rescheduling events or limiting the number or participants.”

Virus concerns have also prompted changes at Skagit Valley College, including the Oak Harbor campus.

In a press release Monday, it was announced there would be no classes Tuesday and classes would resume via “remote delivery methods” beginning Wednesday and throughout the end of Winter Quarter. All campus facilities are closed to students and the public through Sunday for cleaning.

The decision was prompted following a potential positive COVID-19 virus test involving a resident of a Stanwood nursing home.

“Nine SVC students and two faculty in our Certified Nursing Assistant program have been participating in clinical instruction at this facility since February 5. ,” stated a press release from SVC. “At this time, no students or faculty members have been tested for the COVID-19 virus. However, these individuals have participated in classes on the Mount Vernon Campus within the last week.”

Coronavirus concerns have prompted other cancellations as well. For the first time in 32 years, the Whidbey Gardening Workshop, scheduled to be held Saturday, has been canceled.

“It is with great regret that we have made the difficult decision to cancel the Whidbey Gardening Workshop 2020,” read a press release from the Island County Master Gardener Foundation, which puts on the long-running event. “This decision was based on recommendations from health officials and other government agencies as well as the number of instructors and volunteers needing to cancel their participation for health concerns.

“Many of our workshop attendees and volunteers fall into the group that public health agencies strongly encourage to avoid large gatherings and events,” the release continued. “Consequently, we felt for the good of the community we needed to cancel.”

Organizers say anyone who registered for the workshop will receive a full refund. Those with questions may email Planning for next year is underway and the event will take place March 6, 2021.

Gov. Jay Inslee Tuesday announced mandatory screening measures have been put in place at nursing home facilities across the state. All visitors are now required to be screened for coronavirus before entering a facility and all employees and volunteers are to be screened for symptoms at the beginning of every shift.

Last week, Whidbey Weekly was informed by Leslie Burns, executive director at Summerhill Senior Living in Oak Harbor that visitors were being asked to consider alternative ways of communicating with residents.

“We are encouraging alternative ways to visit residents such as Skype, FaceTime, phone calls and email,” she said. ” We are also reminding staff, contractors and volunteers to stay home if they are sick.”

Island County Public Health has established a call center to help answer any questions. The Island County call center is available from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday and from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. The Island County call center can be reached at 360-678-2301. In addition, the Washington State Dept. of Health call center is available from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m., seven days a week, at 1-800-525-0127.

Meanwhile, health officials have recommended everyone practice the following steps to help protect their own health and that of friends, family and community:

Other recommendations include: Be prepared to limit travel and stay home for 14 days, if necessary – have enough food and supplies to stay comfortable; those over 60, with underlying health conditions or who are pregnant should consider limiting attendance at large events or gatherings; while health officials have not asked schools or workplaces to close, people are asked to stay informed on the latest news and make appropriate decisions; finally, follow travel advisories posted by the Centers for Disease Control and the U.S. State Department.

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