OKANOGAN — Okanogan County Public Health has received confirmation of the death of 11 North Valley Extended Care residents related to a recent COVID-19 outbreak in the facility in Tonasket.
“A total of 32 residents have tested positive for COVID-19 and OCPH sends their heartfelt condolences to the families who have lost their loved ones. Out of respect for the families, OCPH is not releasing further information about the deceased residents at this time,” said the agency in a statement released last Monday evening. “The 11 confirmed deaths brings Okanogan County’s total COVID-19 associated deaths to 26.”
The employees at North Valley Extended Care have also been impacted and multiple caregivers are under quarantine until the CDC guidelines allow them to return to work, according to Public Health.
“Two employees are currently hospitalized with COVID and both are reportedly doing well. North Valley Extended Care underwent a routine Infection Prevention Survey following the outbreak and officials confirmed that the Extended Care team is managing this very difficult situation safely and professionally,” the agency said.
John McReynolds, CEO for North Valley Hospital District, said that before the outbreak, the Extended Care had 41 residents.
When asked what is the path forward for the facility, McReynolds said, “The Extended Care will continue to weather the outbreak and will not admit any new residents until it is completely contained.”
Public Health says long-term care facilities serve the communities’ most vulnerable populations whose age and health conditions put them at a higher risk for severe complications from COVID-19 and death. When community COVID-19 rates are high, such as those currently experienced by Okanogan County, long-term care facilities face increasing challenges to keep COVID-19 out of the facility, according to the agency.
While COVID-19 seemed to be affecting nursing homes across the nation, North Valley Extended Care, until recently, was COVID-19 free. McReynolds is asking the community’s help in trying to help stop the spread of the virus, especially in light of the dwindling number of hospital beds available.
“There are increasingly few nursing homes or skilled nursing facilities that have remained COVID free. Since all of NVH employees live, shop, worship and raise their families in our community, the overall prevalence in the area is the biggest risk. Anything we can do to stop the spread of COVID will help protect our vulnerable citizens,” he said. “I know that the tragic news in Extended Care is on people’s minds but I’d like everyone to listen to the health experts about the impacts of COVID on hospital capacity.”
He explained like all of the hospitals in the county, North Valley Hospital has a range of medical issues they take care of locally and more serious conditions are usually transferred to Wenatchee or Spokane.
“As those bigger facilities become stretched, particularly in the Intensive Care Units, the ability to find an accepting facility becomes harder. This has all sorts of negative impacts, including keeping critically ill patients at smaller facilities for extended time frames, having longer transports and stressing our EMS partners’ capacity,” said the administrator. “Obviously, this would impact COVID patients, but it would also cause barriers and delays for all other accidents and serious conditions.”
McReynolds worries about what impact the recent Thanksgiving holiday will have on the number of new positive COVID-19 tests.
“We should know in the next couple of days the impact that Thanksgiving gatherings had on the COVID spread, but by any metric the rising case counts are alarming,” he said.
Okanogan County Public Health is asking all residents of the county to be vigilant about protecting community members, especially those who are most vulnerable and those who work with or come into contact daily with those who are most vulnerable.
“Please continue to wear a mask, wash your hands, and avoid large gatherings. For the health of your family, neighbors and friends, it is critical to wear a mask when in public. Every individual’s decision to socialize outside of their household has the potential to impact the health of our most vulnerable residents. Please mask up when out in public and protect one another,” says the agency.
For detailed information on Okanogan County COVID-19 data, visit: www.okanogancountycovid19.org/ covid-19-data/ and www.spanish.okanogancountycovid19.org/datos-de-covid-19/