In the past three weeks, there have been four COVID-19 outbreaks in congregate settings in Whitman County, including in Washington State University dorms and Greek housing.

The Whitman County Health Department stated these outbreaks on Pullman’s College Hill, as well as an outbreak in a long term care facility, have been reported to the Washington State Department of Health.

The county received 26 new positive COVID-19 test results Wednesday. This brings the year’s total to 870.

The latest patients include five people under the age of 20, 16 people between the ages of 20-39, three people between august 40-59, one person between ages 60-79 and one person older than 80 years old.

All are stable and self-isolating.

Whitman County is currently experiencing a delay in receiving lab results, which has artificially reduced recent local numbers. The Whitman County Health Department is working to resolve the issue.

Last week, 344 new cases were reported in the county.

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee will be in Pullman today discussing the COVID-19 spread with city and WSU leaders. The university will also answer questions about COVID-19 during a town hall 4 p.m. today on its YouTube channel.

There were no reported cases Wednesday in Latah County. There have been 257 confirmed cases in Latah County this year.

There have been no deaths in either county.

As has been the case throughout the pandemic, Whitman County Public Health Director Troy Henderson said Tuesday most of the people being infected in Whitman County have experienced relatively mild symptoms and have recovered at home. Only two people have needed hospital care in Whitman County.

Over the past five months, the Washington Department of Health has assigned two COVID-19 deaths to Whitman County, Henderson said, but neither report was accurate. One involved a former Whitman County resident who contracted the virus several weeks after moving to an assisted living facility in the Tri-City’s region. The other individual “was assigned to us for no apparent reason. He had no connection to Whitman County.”

Because such a large proportion of the Whitman County cases involve younger adults, Henderson said the hospitalization rate here has been much lower than in other parts of the state.

During a Tuesday conference call, Travis Nichols with the REDi Healthcare Coalition in Spokane said slightly more than 4 percent of available hospital beds in eastern Washington are currently occupied by patients testing positive for COVID-19.

While that’s down from a peak of 7.8 percent, Nichols said, “there is some concern out there.”

Based on Whitman County’s experience to date, Henderson said, COVID-19 hasn’t been a huge burden on the health care system or cause for concern.

However, “there’s an asterisk to that,” he said.

The virus is a highly contagious disease that, left unchecked, has the potential to infect vulnerable populations and cause serious health problems and death. Moreover, “there’s a lot we don’t know about COVID-19,” Henderson said, so there’s a danger that people who have mild symptoms today may still experience long-term health problems related to the disease.

“We just don’t know,” he said. “So if I were a healthy 20-year-old, knowing what I know, I don’t think I’d be as cavalier about it as others are being.”

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