BY BECCA LOUX, ALEX HOEFT, AND MAYUMI ELEGADO | Moonshine Ink
Editor’s Note: The original version of this story included the location of the TFHS drive-through clinic, but it has been removed to emphasize the need to be referred from the COVID-19 hotline.
Nevada County’s first official case of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus that has been declared a global pandemic and national health emergency, has been confirmed in the Town of Truckee.
“There’s been one confirmed case in Truckee,” Truckee Mayor Dave Polivy told Moonshine Ink. “That’s been identified and it’s out there. It is what it is. It’s via a normal healthy adult, so we hope everything will turn out okay there.”
Harry Weis, CEO of Tahoe Forest Health System, said he “shouldn’t speculate” on the severity of the positive test case because the case has been kept quiet. He noted, however, that “many patients handle the coronavirus with mild symptoms.” He did not confirm the current location of the patient.
Public officials have been clear that this first known COVID-19 case is only the beginning: Nevada County administrative analyst Taylor Wolfe, who is acting as the PIO on this topic, said “this is our first case but we think there are more undetected cases.”
Though TFHS doesn’t have any confirmed COVID-19 cases at the hospital itself, Weis verified that the test administered to the Truckee-positive case was from a patient who self-reported COVID-19 symptoms. Weis said the patient didn’t leave their car during the test last Thursday and is currently self-isolating. The test results came back positive today.
Polivy, Wolfe, and Weis all confirmed that others who had been in contact with the infected individual were likewise self-isolated, and Wolfe said that the individual had not had community contact, according to an investigation by the county.
TFHS is collecting samples on site, but these are then sent to labs out of the area, per strict CDC protocols. Weis emphasized that the hospital screens patients before testing for the coronavirus, in order to target prospective cases and utilize test resources judiciously.
“We don’t have an unlimited supply of tests,” Weis said. “We want to use them where appropriate.”
The hospital asks that anyone experiencing symptoms (see link to CDC guidelines below) to call the special hotline at (530) 536-6013, staffed 7:30 a.m. to 6 p.m., which will direct them to the appropriate facility if necessary. Weis said they are experiencing roughly 150 calls a day.
“Our goal in being very proactive, is to keep the number of positive outcomes low. We’ve done that with [the] triage and screening testing site,” Weis said. A drive-through screening site began testing for patients displaying symptoms Sunday.
Another cause for concern is that the area is experiencing an unusually tough flu season as well, according to Weis, which he said can overcomplicate the testing process: “We’re in the midst of a pretty aggressive flu season [and] we’re finding new cases of flu symptoms every day.”
Worry over the spread of the virus has caused nearby cities to take stringent approaches, including a coalition of six counties in the Bay Area which have issued shelter-in-place orders and Reno’s shutdown of nonessential businesses. Polivy explained measures like these are designed to provide guidance during a crisis, and it’s something the town is considering.
“We as a town are likely to do that at some point soon, but we just don’t have the personnel, the resources to put something like that into action in the same way,” he said. “ … I am basically a volunteer mayor and we have limited resources at the town, so our priorities are how is the town going to function first. Now we’ll spend the next couple days figuring out what kind of guidance we can give our community.”
The town declared a local emergency on March 10 and has since set up a virtual office of emergency management to help guide efforts.
With closures and cancellations happening on an hourly or even minute-by-minute basis, Polivy was adamant about the appropriate line of power. The town, he said, is doing its best to provide resources and available personnel, but it is “not the primary responsibility when it comes to those things.”
“I’m not trying to shirk any responsibility,” he continued. “I’m trying to be very clear about who is in charge of what and really look at a single lead agency in terms of health … [It’s] 100% under the Nevada County Department of Public Health. The town is facilitating communications, partnerships, and anything else we can possibly provide to go along with that effort.”
Weis echoed that statement, referring to the public health office as the “quarterback” of the pandemic response team.
Regarding continuing communication, Polivy said Truckee residents should look to the town’s website for the latest information. Town of Truckee social media, the Visit Truckee database, and anyone willing to distribute information will also be used as channels. Wolfe directed residents to the Nevada County website and the CDC’s materials for national information as well.
As of press time, Washoe County has reported nine positive cases of COVID-19; Placer, one death and eight cases.
In compliance with recent federal recommendations of social distancing and Gov. Gavin Newsom’s request that people aged 65 or older or with pre-existing conditions self-isolate, Nevada County’s Wolfe said it’s all about responding together as a community to “protect those who are most vulnerable,” she said.
As rumors swirl on social media and beyond, Truckee’s mayor is focused on spreading accurate information. “This is a national emergency,” Polivy said. “It’s a national crisis. We have to all come together, and pointing fingers or spreading any type of misinformation or non-information is not helpful.”