The coronavirus is hitting the more populous cities in the Inland Northwest, such as Spokane and Coeur d’Alene. But it’s also now stretching the health care systems in northeast Washington and conservative leaders in the region are paying attention.
Ferry, Stevens and Pend Oreille counties were among the first in Washington to move to phase two in the state’s coronavirus protocol. For quite awhile you could tick off on one hand the number of positive cases there.
But as the numbers have increased all around the state, the northeastern counties have found they’re not immune to the virus.
“When this was one or two cases every few days, that was manageable. If that was one or two cases now per day, it taxes our system. But as we start to see five cases per day, up to eight cases per day, that’s not sustainable with our existing structure of staff," said Matt Schanz, the administrator for the three-county health district based in Colville.
Schanz says that small staff is feeling the strain as it traces a growing number of cases.
The three counties have a combined total of about 90 positive coronavirus cases, but more than 50 in the last two weeks.
Health Officer Dr. Sam Artzis says he’s seen some recent positive signs. He says elected officials who have been impatient with the slowness of the state’s reopening pace are now accepting the messages that public health officials have been conveying.
“Those people that might be on the more conservative side or more on the conspiracy theory side, if they see our national leadership buying in, I think it makes it easier for us to get our messaging across as well," Artzis said. "I think there’s a lot of political and philosophical differences regarding masking, but if we can get a consistent message out there and people see that businesses are getting restricted, they’re going to be more proactive to be helpful.”
As of Friday, the health district reported four Covid patients were being treated in the region’s hospitals, three in Newport. Artzis says, for now, the hospitals are able to care for them and their regular patients. But there are worries about how that system will adapt if the number of Covid cases continues to increase.