The Benton-Franklin Health District was notified Wednesday that a Tri-City woman who died in a local hospital over the weekend tested positive for COVID-19.
It was the first death attributed to COVID-19 in Benton and Franklin counties and the second case.
The woman who died was in her 80s with underlying health conditions, according to the health district.
Her test results were not completed until after her death, with the health district notified Wednesday. It can take as long as a week to get test results.
“Our first thoughts are with the family and loved ones of this woman,” said Dr. Amy Person, health officer for Benton and Franklin Counties.
The patient was a resident at Bonaventure of Tri-Cities, a senior living community on Bellerive Drive in south Richland.
Person said at a meeting of the Benton Franklin Health District Board on Wednesday afternoon that an investigation into the new case was just beginning and they did not know how she was infected.
She was in assisted living care and could have been out in the community where she may have been infected or a visitor to the center could have infected her.
“Bonaventure has been very responsive and BFHD is working closely with them,” the district said in a statement.
The health district has requested help from the Infection Control Assessment and Response team from the Washington State Department of Health to aid in the investigation and the response at that facility to prevent the virus from spreading to other people.
People over the age of 60 and those with underlying health conditions are at highest risk for COVID-19, as well as influenza, which is still actively circulating in our area, said the district.
That means that residents and staff at all types of senior living facilities, including assisted living centers, skilled nursing facilities, and adult care homes, are at highest risk.
The Benton County death brings the total number of deaths from COVID-19 in the state of Washington to 67, up from 52 on Tuesday. All but 11 of the deaths were in King County.
The number of people testing positive for the novel coronavirus increased from 1,102 on Tuesday to 1,187 on Wednesday, according to the Washington state Department of Health.
FIRST POSITIVE CASE
The Tri-Cities area had its first confirmed case of COVID-19, the illness caused by the novel coronavirus, on Tuesday.
A Franklin County woman in her 20s with underlying health conditions is being treated at a local hospital.
The woman initially was believed to have traveled outside the country, but it does not appear likely now that she was infected during travel, Person said at the Wednesday meeting. However, the investigation is continuing.
Although this was the first confirmed case in Benton and Franklin counties, health officials believe the virus has already been circulating in the community. A lack of testing supplies has limited the number of sick people who could be tested.
Testing supplies have been prioritized to the west side of the state because of the outbreak there, Person said.
As supplies become more available on the east side of the state and more testing is done, it is likely “we will be seeing more confirmed positive cases and, unfortunately, more deaths from this disease,” Person said.
But the initial advice to limit the spread of the novel coronavirus still stands, she said.
The community is encouraged to help prevent the spread of illness by following social distancing and hygiene guidelines and to support the response to this outbreak by staying informed and sharing reliable information, according to health district staff.
The Tri-Cities was adjusting to the new reality Wednesday of living through a global pandemic.
People at highest risk of serious illness from the novel coronavirus are being given some dedicated shopping hours at seven Tri-Cities stores.
The Columbia Center mall in Kennewick is closing temporarily, with anchor store Macy’s already closed.
More closures have been announced, from casinos to campgrounds.
You can ride the bus for free.
And a Tri-Cities man who went public with his suspected case of coronavirus now has his test results.
Here’s more on what’s new:
COLUMBIA CENTER MALL
Columbia Center mall was remaining open with reduced hours, a spokesman said Wednesday morning, but by the end of the day mall owners had changed course.
Simon Property Group announced Wednesday afternoon that after extensive discussions with federal, state and local officials, all its malls, including Columbia Center in Kennewick would close Wednesday night. The closure will end on March 29, it said.
Macy’s had already temporarily closed all stores in the United States, including its store at Columbia Center mall in Kennewick, through the end of March.
It said it would provide benefits and compensation to workers during the closure.
American Eagle also already had closed its store.
A well-known Tri-Cities musician who has been chronicling his wait for results of a test for coronavirus has received an answer seven days after being tested.
Reg Unterseher of Kennewick has not been infected with the novel coronavirus, according to the test result.
“I wish so very much that I could trust this to mean that I actually don’t have COVID-19 and therefore have not been passing the virus around, but that is not what the test actually tells me,” he said.
He developed a fever March 7 while serving as overnight host to a choral group in his home and immediately found other places for his visitors to stay and began to self isolate in his home.
He’s concerned about the accuracy of testing, citing a March 11 peer-reviewed study in the Journal of the American Medical Association that said nasal swab testing for the novel coronavirus has just a 63 percent accuracy rate.
That leaves open the possibility that his test results were wrong and he has alerted the many people who he came in contact with during the week before his symptoms developed.
He has a busy schedule as a composer, voice teacher, associate conductor for Mid-Columbia Mastersingers, music director of Shalom United Church of Christ in Richland and a voice teacher.
The test result does not impact his treatment, since at this time only the symptoms of COVID-19, including fever and coughing, can be treated. He says he is continuing to improve.
He posted on Wednesday that he is pleased to see the changes in attitude since he became ill in early March.
“I see people taking the pandemic more seriously, and people are taking steps to slow the spread of the disease,” he said.
Wildhorse planned to close its casino near Pendleton off Interstate 84 at noon Wednesday and reopen on April 8.
The tower hotel will continue to operate, allowing 100 rooms in a staggered pattern to be occupied. Rooms in the Courtyard Hotel will be closed. The Children’s Entertainment Center, arcade and the two Wildhorse bars are part of the closure.
The closure does not include Wildhorse and Birch Creek golf courses, travel plaza, market and Hamley & Co., but there will be only take-out food service.
“As one of the largest employeers in the region, the decision to partially close Wildhorse Resort and Casino was not an easy one,” Wildhorse said in a statement Tuesday. “With nearly 1,000 employees, the impact to the workforce is significant.”
Wildhorse will continue to pay casino and resort employees affected by the closure through the end of the month.
The casino and hotel closed earlier this month for 48 hours for cleaning after an employee, who did not work with the public, was diagnosed with COVID-19. No other employees have tested positive for the virus.
The Legends closure in Toppenish includes the casino, hotel, restaurants, event center and childcare.
“Each step we’ve made — including the upcoming closure — has been for the health and safety of our guests, team members, and their families,” he said in a news release.
“We anticipate high phone call volumes and encourage guests to review our website to answer questions to the public. Guests may call us at 877-7COME11, private message us on Facebook, or email us at [email protected],” said the release.
Legends Casino Hotel is off Interstate 82 and is owned and operated by the Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation.
BASKETBALL TOURNAMENT EXPOSURE
A spectator at the Class 1A and 2A State Basketball Championships for boys and girls in Yakima has tested positive for novel coronavirus, the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association said.
The Yakima Health District informed the WIAA that the spectator was in attendance only Saturday, March 7, from approximately 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Teams from River View in Finley and Warden played in the Yakima tournament.
The Health District has recommended the WIAA notify those who may have been in close contact with the individual to self-monitor for symptoms of COVID-19 through Saturday, March 21.
The WIAA reported that it has notified schools and tournament-related personnel and said that it wanted to make fans aware as well.
“It is not required nor recommended that attendees notify their local health organization at this time,” the WIAA said in the release. “However, if you begin to show signs of COVID-19 symptoms, contact your health care provider.”
Two grocery store chains and Target are reserving special hours for those at higher risk of serious COVID-19 illnesses from the novel coronavirus.
Safeway and Albertsons stores in Washington state are reserving 7 to 9 a.m. Tuesdays and Thursday for senior citizens, pregnant women and people with compromised immune systems.
“We are asking for customers to honor the reserved hours, and we thank the community in advance for their compassion and understanding toward their neighbors and for helping us maintain these temporary operation guidelines,” the stores said in a statement.
Kennewick, Pasco and south Richland each have Albertsons stores.
Safeway stores are in Richland and Kennewick.
Target has reserved the first hour of shopping each Wednesday to support vulnerable guests, including the elderly and those with underlying health concerns, according to its corporate office.
Target opens at 8 a.m. in Kennewick and Richland.
BEN FRANKLIN TRANSIT
Ben Franklin Transit has stopped collecting fares on its buses, Dial-A-Ride and its general demand service until April 11, when the free service could be extended.
Riders who have purchased March passes may use them through the end of April.
The change helps allow passengers to maintain a 6-foot distance from bus drivers to limit the spread of coronavirus.
Passengers also are asked to enter and exit buses from the rear entrance and then stagger seating to maintain a six-foot distance from the bus driver and other passengers.
Grant PUD is closing its campgrounds along or near the Columbia River that offer overnight camping.
The closure continues at least through April 27 and could be extended.
The campgrounds affected include Crescent Bar, Rocky Coulee, Sand Hollow, Priest Rapids Recreation Area and Jackson Creek Fish Area.
Reservations beyond April 27 may be made only at the Crescent Bar Campground and no fees will be charged until the campground reopens.
Day-use and boat launch access at Grant PUD outdoor recreation areas remain open.
The Grant PUD Visitor Center and the Wanapum Heritage Center have been closed.
The Army Corps of Engineers has closed visitor centers at McNary Dam on the Columbia River and Ice Harbor Dam on the Snake River at least through the end of the month. No tours of dams are being given.