SPOKANE, Wash. — A lot of questions have been raised lately amid news that the 2019 novel coronavirus, now known as COVID-19, is spreading worldwide, with tens of thousand of cases.

Due to this, many people have questions and concerns over the possibility of health impacts here in the Inland Northwest, especially after the announcement of cases in Spokane County and patients receiving treatment at Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center. 

Three out of four patients who were receiving treatment at the hospital's Special Pathogens Unit have since been released

In an effort to help ease fears that can be caused by the spread of misinformation, KREM has set out to answer commonly asked questions about coronavirus and how it relates to the Inland Northwest.

Are there any positive cases of COVID-19 in Spokane?

There are 3 confirmed cases of the 2019 novel coronavirus in Spokane County.

One person who tested positive for the virus is a woman in her 40s who is displaying symptoms of the virus, said Spokane County Health Officer Dr. Bob Lutz. The other is a man in his 50s.

Lutz said the third person who tested positive for the virus has not been contacted by health officials.

One person who tested positive for the virus did not travel but Lutz believes they may have had contact with someone in the Seattle area.

Spokane Regional Health District has identified and contacted all those who may have come in contact with the infected individuals. They will be monitored for fever and respiratory symptoms.

What is the current status of coronavirus in Washington?

Currently, 37 people have died and at least 642 have tested positive in Washington state. The state health department also reports that 4,350 people have tested negative.

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee announced all private and public K-12 schools statewide will close through April 24 to help stop the spread of the virus. 

Inslee also banned gatherings of 250 people or more statewide.

RELATED: Washington closes all schools and bans crowds during coronavirus outbreak

What is social distancing and how do I practice it?

Health officials have been urging social distancing as the virus spreads in Washington state.

Social distancing is staying away from other people as a way to protect oneself and others from getting sick.  

RELATED: What is social distancing?

The following are tips for social distancing at home and at work. 

Home

  • Stay home 
  • Don’t go out in public when you’re sick
  • Avoid medical settings unless necessary
  • Give 6 feet of space from others
  • Wave instead of shaking hands
  • Practice excellent personal hygiene

Work

  • Work in ways that minimize close contact
  • Minimize groups over 10
  • Encourage telecommuting
  • Clean your workspace frequently

People at higher risk of serious illness from COVID-19 should put social distancing into practice, experts say. Higher risk groups include:

  • People older than 60
  • Those with underlying health conditions
  • People with weakened immune systems
  • Pregnant women

Experts say these practices can break the chain of coronavirus transmission though they have not said it will completely stop the virus from spreading.

How many patients are at Sacred Heart Spokane and where did they come from?

There is now one patients in the Special Pathogens Unit at Spokane’s Sacred Heart after three were released following treatment.

The initial four were transported here from Travis Air Force Base, which is between Sacramento and San Francisco, but the patients came to the United States as passengers aboard the Diamond Princess cruise ship that docked in Japan.

RELATED: Three coronavirus patients released from Spokane's Sacred Heart

Why was Sacred Heart chosen?

Sacred Heart is one of 10 hospitals across the country that is home to a special pathogens unit capable of handling these diseases, such as the coronavirus and Ebola. The unit was created after the hospital received funds to be one of the 10 regional care centers for these diseases after the 2014-15 Ebola outbreak.

The other locations are: Boston; New York City; Baltimore; Atlanta; Minneapolis; Galveston, Texas; Omaha, Nebraska; Denver; and Los Angeles.

Spokane County Health officials said the decision was made by federal officials, and that the demands at the other locations were also considered in the decision.

KREM is working to confirm the exact details and reasoning behind why the four patients came to Spokane instead of Los Angeles. The distance between Spokane and Travis AFB is 687.93 miles (assuming you fly in a straight line), while the distance between Los Angeles and Travis AFB is 356.65 miles (again, assuming you fly in a straight line).

RELATED: Spokane's Sacred Heart equipped with the tools to contain Coronavirus

Who's paying for the care provided at Sacred Heart?

KREM asked Providence Sacred Heart for figures regarding the cost of providing care in the Special Pathogens Unit.

"As with any hospital stay, an individual’s private insurance is billed and the patient may be subject to deductibles and copays, as established by their insurer. For these unique patients, various state and federal agencies are considering additional funding options, if necessary," a spokesperson for Sacred Heart told KREM on Thursday.  .

 A city spokesperson said police helped with security and transporting the patients from the Spokane International Airport to Sacred Heart, but that costs were minimal and that "no hard costs" have occurred so far.

The Department of Health and Human Services has not responded to KREM's questions about if the federal government is paying for the treatment at all.

RELATED: Who's footing the bill for the coronavirus patients in Spokane?

Is this putting the Spokane community at risk of an outbreak?

A lot of people are concerned that by bringing these four patients to Spokane, there is now a higher risk of outbreak to the community.

Spokane County Health Officer Dr. Bob Lutz told the public that there is “zero” risk to the Spokane populace with the transfer of patients to Sacred Heart. 

When asked by KREM, he said he made the comment because he was confident in the crews that work with these patients to contain any possible chance of the disease spreading from the workers or the isolation unit.

People can help keep them self safe from coronavirus by washing their hands often, using hand sanitizer and cleaning commonly used surfaces.

RELATED: Doctor answers questions about coronavirus patients in Spokane

Is this affecting other patients at Sacred Heart?

Providence Sacred Heart has said that it doesn’t expect the arrival of the patients to the Special Pathogens Unit to disrupt other areas of the hospital, and that there is no risk to other patients.

According to Sacred Heart Communication Manager Jennifer Semenza, the Special Pathogens Unit was being used as a patient overflow space for medically stable patients. She said that before the unit was activated for coronavirus patients, Inland Northwest Behavioral Health Hospital had expanded services and opened additional beds, which eased the demand for psychiatric beds in Sacred Heart's Emergency Department.

The hospital decided to move the medically stable patients into the space that was previously used as overflow for the psychiatric ward, according to Semenza. She said that, while these patients were moved to beds previously used for the psychiatric ward, it didn't have a negative affect on psychiatric care as the overflow space wasn't being used after the expansion at Inland Northwest Behavioral Hospital.

How many cases of coronavirus are there in the United States, worldwide?

A total of 1,135  cases of coronavirus have been confirmed in the United States, according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center. There have been at least 32 deaths in the US, most of which happened in Western Washington (24).

Worldwide, the total number of cases is much higher, sitting at 124,908 cases confirmed, according to Johns Hopkins. However, most of these cases are in China, where there are more than 80,000 confirmed cases. The virus is believed to have originated in China’s Wuhan Province.

The virus has spread to all continents, except Antarctica, according to the WHO. Europe has recently seen an increase in cases, with Italy being the hardest hit. 

RELATED: Gonzaga students in Florence, Italy make plans to return to the U.S.

Why do people have to be quarantined for 14 days?

According to the Washington Department of Health, anyone who has visited the Wuhan Province of China must be quarantined for 14 days regardless of whether or not they've tested positive for coronavirus, per orders from the federal government.

If a patient does test positive for coronavirus, they remain in quarantine until they get two negative test results.  

RELATED: COVID-19: 2nd death in France; South Korea cases jump; 1st US soldier infected

What are the symptoms of the virus and when should I be tested if I start showing symptoms?

The symptoms of coronavirus are similar to the flu or a cold. Symptoms include a fever, cough, and shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, according to the Washington State Department of Health.

The severity of symptoms ranges significantly. Some cases are very mild with symptoms similar to the common cold, and some cases are more like severe pneumonia that require hospitalization. Most deaths have been reported in older adults who had other health conditions, according to DOH.

Symptoms may appear as soon as two days after being exposed to the coronavirus or as long as 14 days after being exposed.

If you have symptoms of coronavirus, health officials urged calling your health care provider or clinic and following their recommendations before going to the emergency room.

The Washington State Department of Health has also set up a hotline to answers questions about coronavirus. 

If you have questions about how the virus spreads, what is being done in Washington state, or what you can do if you have symptoms, call 1-800-525-0127 and press #. 

Can the pneumonia vaccine protect people who contract coronavirus?

The Washington State Department of Health told KREM that the pneumococcal vaccine is not known to help against pneumonia caused by COVID-19.

RELATED: What are coronavirus symptoms?

Can my pet contract coronavirus?

A pet dog has been quarantined in Hong Kong after it tested a "weak positive" for coronavirus, but officials say more testing is needed to determine whether the animal is atually infected.

Officials say they plan to run more tests to see if the animal is sick of whether results were skewed by "environmental contamination of the dog's mouth and nose."

The dog is believed to be the first pet to be quarantined for a suspected case of the virus. 

RELATED: Coronavirus: Pet dog’s ‘weak positive’ may be due to environmental contamination

Facts not Fear: KREM is working to provide you with the latest correct information on the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. Text "Facts" to 509-448-2000 for links to the latest information on coronavirus.