As expected, the number of people seeking mental health services and visiting food banks has risen during the course of the COVID-19 pandemic this year.

These topics were discussed Wednesday by health and community leaders during a Whitman County Health Network meeting.

Mike Berney, executive director of Palouse River Counseling in Pullman, said research shows there is usually a spike in people suffering from anxiety and depression following a natural disaster.

He said his staff has seen this spike during the COVID-19 pandemic this year.

“Basically what was predicted is what we’re starting to see,” he said.

People who sought Palouse River Counseling’s services before the pandemic now need to be seen more frequently because the skills they developed to manage life situations are not working as well.

He said the number of patients in crisis are increasing. Berney commended Pullman Regional Hospital and first responders for their ability to handle crisis emergencies.

“More than any other community that I’m aware of in Washington, it seems to be working in Pullman and Whitman County,” he said.

Jeff Guyett, director of the Community Action Center, also said the number of residents visiting the CAC food bank will likely rise in the next several weeks.

“I would anticipate that our holiday season as we enter into it, especially with the new restrictions, we’re going to be well above our typical visits per week and that’ll be a big demand,” he said.

Guyett said the CAC will have the food supplies on hand to handle that increase.

He said the CAC is seeing far more repeat visitors per month this year than in a normal year, and many of them are there to find groceries for their family.

Washington State University on Wednesday announced the National Guard has agreed to extend its COVID-19 testing operations for WSU students, faculty and staff through Dec. 17.

The National Guard, which has operated testing sites in Pullman since early September, was originally scheduled to stay until Friday. Its staff has collected more than 2,500 testing swabs.

Chris Skidmore, interim director of Whitman County Public Health, said his department is continuing to work closely with long-term care facilities that saw an outbreak in COVID-19 cases this fall. The Washington Department of Social and Health Services has visited these facilities to do site reviews and discuss best management practices, he said.

With regard to the COVID-19 vaccine, Skidmore said he expects to see Washington’s final draft detailing its vaccine prioritization and allocation plan next week.

Theresa Kwate, of Palouse Medical, wanted to advise the public that the turnaround time for COVID-19 tests at its facilities is two to four days.

She said testing may be a challenge for some travelers, as airlines can require people to have a negative test result in a certain time frame before flying. But, Kwate said, her staff can’t guarantee when that result will come through.

“We can’t say what date the negative result is going to be dated,” she said.

She added that the Readycare Respiratory Center, which provides COVID-19 testing, is open seven days a week.

Whitman County received 19 new positive COVID-19 test results Wednesday, bringing the county total, to date, to 2,095. Five cases are currently hospitalized.

There were 39 new cases reported Wednesday in Latah County. There have been 1,415 confirmed cases in the county this year.

Anthony Kuipers can be reached at akuipers@dnews.com.

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