EVERETT — The number of new coronavirus cases is expected to grow now that UW Medicine is testing for the virus, in addition to tests being done at the state’s lab, said Snohomish County’s public health officer.
“We do expect the number of cases to go up,” said Dr. Chris Spitters, interim health officer for the Snohomish Health District, at a news conference Thursday.
Doctors and health care providers in Snohomish County are following instructions from UW Medicine on who should be tested and how to get test results from the school’s virology laboratory, Spitters said.
Spitters said that not everyone with a cough or fever will be tested because priority testing will be reserved for people who are hospitalized with an unexplained illness, people who work in an occupation where they interact with the public or people who have had close contact with known cases.
One Snohomish County resident has died from COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, since January, when a 35-year-old man from the county became the first case in the United States. He was treated at Providence Regional Medical Center in Everett and has since recovered.
As of Thursday afternoon, there are 18 confirmed COVID-19 cases in Snohomish County, according to the state Department of Health.
Spitters was joined by Snohomish County Executive Dave Somers, Everett Mayor Cassie Franklin and other city and county officials to discuss emergency declarations by the county and city of Everett.
The declarations will allow for a quicker government response to the virus’ spread, Somers said.
The county and the health district laid out a series of recommendations for county residents to follow, including social distancing. Spitters urged people to reconsider attending any gathering of 50 people or more.
“The larger the group, the higher the risk,” Spitters said. “The closer the contact between individuals the higher the risk.”
The Snohomish Health District is also urging employers to allow employees to work from home. If that isn’t possible, Spitters said people should limit their interactions with other people while at work.
People who are not feeling well or have a cold should stay home from work, Spitters said.
Public health and elected officials are not recommending that schools be closed at this time, Spitters said.
Social distancing should be a priority for people older than 60, pregnant women, people with health conditions like diabetes, respiratory problems and heart conditions, Spitters said.
He also urged people to not visit nursing homes or long-term care facilities to better protect the people there.
The county and city of Everett are allowing their employees to work from home and canceling all large county-related meetings and gatherings. Such decisions have been and will continue to be based on science, facts and input from public health officials, Somers said.
UW Medicine developed the diagnostic test to help alleviate the shortage of available tests and received approval Saturday from the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) to begin testing. Before FDA approval, the only testing being done was at the state Department of Health’s lab in Shoreline.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tests sent to Washington and other states last month had problems, which made it difficult for public health officials to understand how the virus was spreading in Washington.
The UW Medicine lab has capacity to test 1,000 samples a day, and is working to increase that number to 4,000 or 5,000 a day as the epidemic worsens, which it’s expected to do.
Spitters, Somers and Franklin all urged people to stay calm in the face of a growing problem and to keep themselves and others healthy by washing hands frequently, staying home from work when sick and staying away from sick people.
“The British have a saying, ‘keep calm and carry on.’ I think ours should be ‘keep calm and wash your hands,’ ” Somers said.