Care Facility In Small Okanogan County Town Of Tonasket Reports 12 Deaths In COVID Outbreak
Updated Dec. 1, 2020, 4:25 p.m. PT
BY ANNA KING & SCOTT LEADINGHAM
A care facility in rural Okanogan County is the latest site of a large-scale coronavirus outbreak.
As of Tuesday, Dec. 1, there was another death reported at North Valley Extended Care in Tonasket. It marks 12 residents dead, 32 sickened and 20 staff infected with COVID-19. Officials blame community spread from the surging national pandemic.
The county health department first reported Monday night that North Valley Extended Care had recorded 11 deaths. Health officials did not disclose a time frame for the cases and deaths. Two staff members there are hospitalized, according to the health department.
These 12 new deaths bring the county’s total to at least 27 confirmed coronavirus fatalities this year. Over the summer, the county dealt with outbreaks and several deaths in farmworkers employed in the Brewster area. That included foreign guest workers here on H-2A visas.
“Long-term care facilities serve our most vulnerable populations whose age and health conditions put them at a higher risk for severe complications from COVID-19 and death,” the county health department wrote in a news release Monday night. “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.”
At least one staff member was sick enough to be hospitalized more than two hours away in Wenatchee. The remaining staffers are struggling to care for all the residents — both sick and healthy. Okanogan County Public Health Officer Dr. John McCarthy says the facility follows correct protocols, including regular testing. But an asymptomatic staff member still may have brought in the disease.
“People work really hard to try and not let it spread, McCarthy told the public media Northwest News Network on Tuesday. “(COVID-19) is stealthy, it has a propensity for spreading even when we are all on guard.”
Last month, McCarthy, said he would resign, citing the increasing work load of this pandemic year. Lauri Jones, the county’s community public health director, previously told the Northwest News Network’s about threats she has faced from community members during the pandemic.
“I still find myself sometimes looking over my shoulder,” Jones told correspondent Anna King. “Especially if I walk out of the building and it’s getting obviously dark earlier.”
This new outbreak in Tonasket, with a population around 1,100, hits in a mid-size town in the sparsely populated county of about 40,000 people. Okanogan is Washington’s largest county by land mass, but has the lowest population density, with fewer than eight people per square mile.
Copyright 2020 Northwest Public Broadcasting