Wednesday, March 11, 2020
PANDEMIC PANDEMONIUM: The incompetence and incoherence of the federal response to the novel coronavirus has teamed with pervasive social media to create a perfect storm of action and reaction (and perhaps a little overreaction [hoarding]) to the COVID-19 outbreak in Washington. The threat is real, the impacts are large and continuing, and local governments are mobilizing in response.
King County public health officials on Monday reported three new deaths from coronavirus and 33 new cases. The total number of deaths from COVID-19 in Washington is now at least 26, while health officials report more than 250 cases—with those numbers rising each day. The majority of these cluster around a single assisted care facility in Kirkland that has been wracked by COVID-19.
Isolated cases have now been reported in Whatcom and Skagit counties—as the risk increases geometrically throughout Western Washington.
“Given what is happening in Washington state, we believe we are in the early stages of what we anticipate to be wider spread in the United States,” Whatcom County Health Officer Dr. Greg Stern reported. “Our efforts now are focused on slowing the spread of disease to lessen disruption to our community and health care system.”
Large-scale public events have been canceled, and some schools and school districts have suspended operations. The latter action was not necessary at this time from a public health point of view, health officials advised, but “we know that school districts act out of extra-special caution when they are protecting children. Schools know their community best and are in charge of making decisions about their school.”
The statement seems to sum up the decisions local communities and governments must make in the breakdown of trust in the Trump administration’s pandemic response. One of the most predictable and anticipated emergencies in human existence is being handled piecemeal state-by-state, community-by-community in the vacuum of national leadership.
The local medical community is working closely with the Whatcom County Health Department to ensure there is coordination of response to continue to mitigate and work to slow transmission so that if there is an increase of cases the medical community will be able to fully accommodate the needed response.
Whatcom County Executive Satpal Sidhu met with department leaders and elected officials last week to prepare a COVID-19 response.
The Whatcom County Health Department Incident Management Team has a policy review team in place that is now looking at policies that may be needed for social distancing and other nonpharmaceutical interventions. Communication is in place with County Emergency Medical Services that has set protocols for the safety of first responders and others who may deal with a stricken population.
“Plans are in place, for instance, for transfer of individuals from the border through our county with local private ambulance services if that were necessary and those services all have the proper equipment needed to ensure their safety and the safety of the public,” Sidhu noted in a press release. “Resource requests from agencies are processed through the Sheriff’s Office of Emergency Management in coordination with State Department of Health. Local schools, senior centers, faith-based organizations and other agencies are included in regular communications with the health department and the Office of Emergency Management. Also, our state legislators have been in communication to ensure that they can act on our behalf at the state level, if necessary.”
Western Washington University has similarly mobilized a response to campus activities—appropriate given a large, mobile population and the potential spread of illness.
“We are closely monitoring the evolving situation at other campuses in the region, including the University of Washington and Everett Community College,” university officials noted in a press release. “Colleagues and Western students at our other locations around the region will continue to follow the direction of their local campus leadership; public health officials at each location will provide overall guidance and advice as we continue to closely coordinate our efforts with community health partners.”
Governor Jay Inlsee has mobilized a state response, with new public health measures and proposals for economic and financial relief for families and businsesses impacted the pandemic.
“Through careful planning and by working together, we can mitigate the economic hardships this situation is going to cause,” Inslee said. “Whether it’s businesses expanding their paid leave and telework options, support for state workers, unemployment insurance or paid family and medical leave, we can help provide individuals with additional security while they care for themselves and their families…. We are expanding the ability of employers to retain their workers even if they need to slow business operations.”
Inslee also announced new rules for nursing homes and assisted living facilities that focus on better protecting older adults—a population more likely to be hit by COVID-19. Inslee declared a state of emergency earlier this month because of COVID-19.
“The risk of severe illness and death from COVID-19 appears to be higher in people 60 years or older and in those with chronic health conditions,” Inslee said. “And we know there is an increased risk among people while live in congregated settings, such as long-term care facilities. We need to protect our older adults, and these rules will help.”
It’s far too early yet to assess the full impacts of COVID-19 on local families and businesses, but those impacts appear severe and lasting indeed.