Island County declares state of emergency; no virus cases yet

WhidbeyHealth Medical Center says it is prepared to respond to any cases of the coronavirus.

By Jessie Stensland / Whidbey News-Times

A run on toilet paper at grocery stores is perhaps the most noticeable visual impact the coronavirus has had on Whidbey Island, but that doesn’t mean a lot of activity isn’t going on behind the scenes.

There have been no confirmed cases of coronavirus on Whidbey Island, health officials said late Thursday.

Nonetheless, the Island County commissioners formally declared a state of emergency March 2 for the entire county due to the worldwide outbreak of COVID-19, commonly known as the coronavirus. The declaration activates emergency management plans, allows emergency use of local resources and authorizes the use of emergency expenditures.

“This will allow for a more rapid response time in order to assist affected individuals to recover from the outbreak,” a release from the commissioners stated.

The county will also have a public health weekend call center to respond to questions regarding the coronavirus. The call center will be open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on both Saturday, March 7 and Sunday, March 8.

The number to call for information is 360-678-2301.

Erin Woolley, chief nursing officer at WhidbeyHealth Medical Center, said the hospital is prepared to respond to the virus and accompanying challenges. In fact, the hospital employs “an infection preventionist” and the staff trains to respond to all kinds of different health hazards.

“It’s what we do all the time,” she said.

Woolley said the hospital assembled a task force made up of medical professionals, public health staff, emergency management, the Navy and others to plan and prepare. Hospital officials are in daily contact with the Island County Health Department, the state Department of Health and other agencies to keep up to date on what’s happening.

The hospital conducts drills on how to isolate patients and collect specimens. Cleaning efforts have been increased and extra supplies have been ordered. Staff members watch webinars and listen to podcasts about the disease.

The hospital has trained a range of providers and staff on screening questions, which Woolley said is one of the most vital parts of the response.

Woolley explained people shouldn’t expect to see tents set up outside or many of the other visuals from pandemic movies. Even if the coronavirus does spread to Whidbey Island, most people will get only mildly ill and won’t need to be hospitalized.

“But we are certainly prepared if patients require hospitalization,” she said, explaining that the hospital has airborne isolation rooms which are used for other infections.

Doctors and nurses at the hospital aren’t wearing hazmat suits but are following the normal precautions for dealing with people who have respiratory symptoms. Woolley explained that the hospital follows guidelines set by the Centers for Disease Control.

In addition, she said the CDC sets the parameters for when patients are tested for coronavirus.

A patient becomes a “person under investigation” and is tested if he or she has certain respiratory symptoms and recently traveled to a country with an outbreak; was in close contact with someone who tested positive; or is hospitalized without a different explanation for the illness.

The swabs may be a little uncomfortable, Woolley cautioned, since they have to go fairly deep into the nose and the back of the throat.

For accurate information about the coronavirus, the hospital advises people to check out the Washington State Department of Health website at, the CDC website at/ or and the website for the World Health Organization at /…/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019.

This story originally appeared in the Whidbey News-Times, a sister publication to The Herald.

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