Why has COVID-19 hit the town of Quincy so hard?

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City of Quincy photo

With 35 confirmed cases as of Tuesday, Quincy remains the epicenter of the COVID-19 outbreak in North Central Washington.

Though the virus had already taken root in the Seattle area, it was on March 4 that Quincy recorded the first confirmed case east of the Cascades.

That was a man in his 80s who died three days later at Central Washington Hospital in Wenatchee.

His death was the 16th in the state from the virus. And only the 19th in the United States.

At the time, most cases and deaths were presumed to involve people who had recently traveled from China, or had been in close contact with someone who had.

The first diagnosed case in the U.S. was Jan. 19 in Snohomish County. That was a 35-year-old man who four days prior had returned from visiting family in Wuhan, China.

First Quincy case was puzzling

The Grant County Health District could find no such link with its patient, meaning his was not the first case of COVID-19 in the community, only the first one diagnosed.

“We consider that one community-spread,” said Grant County Health District Administrator Theresa Adkinson. “Our first case did not have interactions outside of our community, so somehow it got introduced into the community and that person got exposed.”

The man was a regular diner at the Quincy Senior Center, a popular gathering place in the town of about 7,500 people.

Since his diagnosis, the health district has examined all its positive cases, going back 14 days prior to the person contracting the disease, and found “clusters,” meaning connections between several people who tested positive.

That included in Mattawa, a Grant County town of about 4,500 people. Two Catholic priests in Mattawa were among the first of the now-nine positive cases in that town.

“We have been able to link many of our cases together in Quincy and Mattawa,” Adkinson said.

Several patients ‘fighting for their lives’

Since the March 7 death of the Quincy man, there have been no further deaths in Quincy or Grant County.

But Adkinson said there are hospitalized patients in very serious condition.

“Several of our hospitalized patients are on ventilators and fighting for their lives and that weighs heavy on our hearts,” she said.

The ability to care for the 69 people who have tested positive in Grant County has not been overwhelming for health care providers in the county, she said.

Depending on the condition of the patient and the decision of their physician, some patients are isolated in their homes or sent outside the county for care, with several taken to Central Washington Hospital.

There are currently seven Grant County people hospitalized, and two other patients have been released, Adkinson said.

Grant County could use more robust testing

As they learn more about the virus and people better adopt social distancing and other measure to avoid getting or spreading COVID-19, she said they hope to see the spread of the virus wane.

Currently, the rate of cases among older people in Grant County is not growing as fast as the cases among younger people

“We’re seeing it (grow) in our working-age range (30 to 50). I think we’re doing a better job of caring for our elders,” Adkinson said.

As is being experienced in cities, counties and states across the country and world, getting enough testing kits has been a challenge in Grant County.

“We don’t have the robust testing that we would like to see in Grant County,” Adkinson said. “We are encouraged by what we are hearing about additional testing coming to our communities so that we can keep linking up those cases and keep learning more about how this virus is transmitted.”