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By Jana Hill
Mill Creek Beacon Editor 

Mill Creek's COVID-positive case led to December quarantine

Outbreak or containment status is unclear


Last updated 12/31/2020 at 9:50am

Eleven days after the announcement that a staff member tested positive for COVID-19, it is unclear if the city of Mill Creek has experienced any more cases.

"Because of the occurrence of one of our staff members testing positive for COVID, we've been under quarantine," Ciaravino said at a Dec. 8 City Council meeting.

By Dec. 17, the Beacon had a vague update in-hand and several inquiries issued, to multiple sources, to find out the status on COVID-19 at the city. It is not clear if the single employee who tested positive was the end of it, or if the disease spread to others.

On Dec. 15, Mayor Brian Holtzclaw said in a phone interview that he thought if there were new cases, he would have heard by then.

The Beacon asked for a specific update on testing-status among city employees – if test results were in-process, or if there were any more confirmed cases. Ciaravino did not respond to a phone call or email.

Holtzclaw said in an interview that Ciaravino acted quickly once he learned of the case, directing people to work remotely. Other actions taken to prevent illness at the city include closure of the offices to the public, throughout the pandemic. The city has also switched to remote events for Halloween, Veterans Day and, soon, they are likely to plan a remote-access Christmas tree lighting event.

It is not known whether employees are back to work in city offices after being asked to work remotely. Under an emergency proclamation, City Hall is closed through Jan. 5, according to the city’s website.

The single known positive COVID-19 case was announced in a public meeting. If the disease was, in fact, contained, there is no outbreak.

Definitions for COVID-19 outbreaks are relative to the local context. A working definition of “outbreak” is recommended for planning investigations. According to the CDC, an “outbreak” depends on the local jurisdiction's rules but is defined as two or more contacts having active COVID-19 or two or more in the same office.

The Snohomish County Health District aligns with the CDC definition of an outbreak.

“Two or more confirmed COVID-19 cases within 14 days of each other in a workplace or similar setting would be considered an outbreak. One confirmed COVID-19 case is an outbreak in a long-term care or healthcare setting,” said Kari Bray, communications coordinator for the health district.

The state Department of Health says person-to-person transmission is assumed primarily through respiratory droplets from coughing or sneezing, but may occur by close personal contact and airborne transmission in indoor spaces without good ventilation.

Outbreak information for the county is published in weekly reports, by the health district. Workplaces are a point of concern mentioned recently in the Joint Information Commission meeting.

“The number of workplace outbreak investigations increased from 32 new outbreaks in the last week of November to 42 new outbreaks the first week of December. And we have about 65 ongoing outbreaks in workplaces,” said Dr. Chris Spitters, health officer for the Snohomish County Health District in the weekly JIC update meeting on Dec. 15.

Spitters said the two-week case rate through Saturday, Dec. 12, increased again to 448 per 100,000 for the preceding 14 days, and while the numbers are not as bad as they could have been if Thanksgiving gatherings would have hiked the statistics, “just about every indicator has tended to go in the wrong direction still,” he said.

Health officials continue to encourage cautionary action such as masking up, social distancing and hand-washing to avoid spread, as all await vaccination efforts to expand to the general public. Vaccination has begun under emergency use approval by the FDA.

One mRNA vaccine was cleared for emergency use so far, and one more is being reviewed by the FDA. Health providers and high-risk people in long-term care are expected to be first, and more rounds will continue as supplies become available: two shots are needed for each person vaccinated.

Both the Pfizer vaccine that is cleared for use, and a Moderna vaccine being considered by the FDA this week, are intended for prevention of the virus. Vaccines are not expected to help anyone who is already sick.

The virus itself can cause breathing difficulty, so it is considered potentially dangerous in general, due to a lack of proven treatments to help people recover from severe illness that can require hospitalization. Most people recover without medical intervention. High risk groups are people older than 60, or those with underlying conditions that impact breathing, immunity, or circulation issues such as heart disease and high blood pressure. Immunity problems also hike risk of severe disease.

An inflammatory condition in children has been associated with COVID-19 in some children, and though not common can be dangerous. Spitters has said in a past JIC briefing that all ages have the potential to be impacted by lingering illness.

Data is still being collected on the virus to define all risk factors.

On Tuesday, Spitters said, Snohomish County has “56 active long-term care outbreaks with about 500 cases in the last month or so. Hospitalization numbers remain high, but relatively stable, at 94 confirmed cases, 12 suspected cases in Snohomish County hospitals this morning, with 16 of those individuals requiring ventilators as of this morning.”

Overwhelming hospital resources remain a top prevention priority, even as vaccines are cleared for use.

Hospital capacity was 5% above what Spitters calls “threshold for concern. … The hospitals are in that contingency management phase where it’s not normal operations, and it’s also not a crisis, but still they’re having to stretch their resources to provide care to all the COVID cases and all the other needs for acute care that come in.”

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