Though the first case of COVID-19 wasn’t reported in San Juan County until March 20, the community had already begun practicing social distancing to help “flatten the curve.”
Encouraged by local, state and national public health officials, many U.S. citizens in both affected areas and those which have yet to see a confirmed case, have hunkered down within the confines of their houses, leaving only for work and the essentials, awaiting the word to reemerge.
“If anyone is living a normal life today, we are not doing what you need to do if we’re going to save lives in this state,” Gov. Jay Inslee said in a March 20 press conference. “If people continue to ignore this common-sense provision, I will go farther to protect 7 million Washingtonians. … We have got to be serious about this virus. We’ve got to change the way we do business. … We have not done enough.”
Since the first case of COVID-19 — the disease caused by a novel coronavirus — was reported in Washington state on Jan. 21, the illness has spread across the country, infecting more than 33,000 people and killing more than 400. Coronavirus is responsible for diseases ranging from the common cold to Serious Acute Respiratory Syndrome.
Inslee held a press conference on March 18 wherein he announced measures to help workers, renters and small business owners during the outbreak.
“We know that we are heading for some really choppy economic waters. Like when we face any squall we know that we’re going to get through that squall and that storm but it’s going to be tough,” Inslee said.
“This has caused some real economic hardship for our families and our small business and our large businesses.”
Inslee announced a statewide moratorium on evictions for failure to pay rent for residential tenants for the next 30 days, including a prohibition on serving a 20-day notice of eviction unless it is for health or safety reasons and prohibiting initiation of legal action.
To aid in assisting workers who are currently unemployed due to the virus, Inslee said the unemployment office was directed to waive the one-week waiting period before benefits are available and to retroactively approve claims filed since March 1.
Inslee also commended public utility providers for assisting members by waiving late fees and expanding bill assistance programs.
“Many utilities have already taken this step, we appreciate their leadership,” Inslee said.
Inslee encouraged people to resist buying more than they need and hoarding supplies.
“That makes it harder for at-risk individuals to feel safe and confident,” Inslee said, noting that the supply chain is robust and healthy. “Empty shelves are rush buying and hoarding that is not necessary. … We will all get through this together.”
On the afternoon of Friday, March 20, San Juan County announced an Orcas resident was the first person in the islands to receive the diagnosis of COVID-19 in the worldwide outbreak.
“We have expected a confirmed COVID-19 case to happen and we have planned for this occurrence,” San Juan County Health Officer Doctor Frank James said in a press release. “Our public health team works every day to identify, track, and follow up on cases of all potential disease exposures to protect the health and safety of everyone throughout the San Juan Islands. This will be no exception.”
James said that the patient is stable and being treated at home. The patient’s family has been quarantined and the people who have had close contact with the patient have been contacted, he added. The patient was seen by their physician and the test was administered by UW Medicine on Orcas Island.
For updates on San Juan County’s COVID-19 response, visit https://www.sanjuanco.com/1668/2019-Novel-Coronavirus.
On Saturday, March 21, the state Department of Health received medical supplies from the federal Strategic National Stockpile which it will distribute to counties, according to a press release.
President Donald Trump approved Inslee’s request for a major disaster declaration on Sunday, March 22. He also announced the USNS Mercy, a Navy ship that Inslee had previously said he had hoped would be stationed near Seattle to provide additional hospital beds for medical emergencies that are not COVID-19 related.
“We appreciate that the federal government has recognized the severity of the public health emergency in Washington state by declaring a major disaster and taking the first step toward additional assistance for Washingtonians,” Inslee said. “However, today’s declaration does not unlock many forms of federal assistance we have requested to help workers and families who are badly hurting. We will continue working with our federal partners to deliver the full suite of disaster assistance that is sorely needed in our state, such as expanded unemployment benefits for workers who lose their paychecks as a result of the COVID-19 crisis.”
Inslee named retired Navy Vice Admiral Raquel C. Bono head of the state’s COVID-19 health care response team on March 22 as well. She will work with the state and health providers to ensure medical staffing needs are met and develop standard protocols according to a Washington Department of Health press release.
The Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission, Department of Fish and Wildlife and Department of Natural Resources announced on March 22 the closure of all state campgrounds until April 30. Day use areas and trails will remain open.
As of midnight March 23 until midnight April 5, the Lummi Nation has enacted a shelter in place ordinance on its reservation outside of Bellingham. Individuals may only travel outside of the home to provide or receive essential services, such as medical; engage in essential activities, such as grocery shopping, fishing, hunting and gathering; and for work for essential business, according to a press release.
“Our objective is to take every measure and to ensure the health and safety of our families during this COVID-19 pandemic,” Chairman Lawrence Solomon said in a March 22 press release. “We love our people. This resolution is a mandate for our people and families to stay home.”
Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security Director Tom Inglesby was interviewed on “Public Health on Call,” a new Johns Hopkins podcast about the novel coronavirus on March 11. He noted that scientists have recently learned there appears to be a “pretty substantial” amount of pre-symptomatic transmission.
“That does make the possibility of interventions more complicated if people are spreading the disease before they’re symptomatic,” Inglesby said, adding that children are being infected at the same rate as other age groups, contrary to previous beliefs. “They just have minimal symptoms.”
Inglesby agreed that social distancing has been effective at slowing the spread of illness.
“When you decrease social interaction in a community, there’s going to be less opportunities for disease to spread,“ Inglesby said.