Seattle and King County officials provided an update on COVID-19 (coronavirus) on Wednesday, March 4, at a press conference in Seattle.
“This is a fast-moving situation and we’re getting information in real time,” King County public information officer James Apa said at the beginning of the conference.
It was confirmed at the outset that there are currently 31 cases of coronavirus and nine deaths overall in King County. It was also recommended by officials at the conference that employers maximize telecommuting and that large gatherings (of about 10 people or more) be canceled or postponed if possible.
King County Executive Dow Constantine additionally confirmed that all nonessential large group county meetings will be canceled for the next three weeks, with reassessments happening regularly to determine changes to precautionary measures. County employees who can work from home will throughout this period.
He also affirmed quarantine-focused modular units in White Center, with two additional locations in Interbay and North Seattle.
The recently announced purchase of a motel to be specifically used for quarantine will be located in Kent. Constantine said it will likely begin operations within the next few days.
“We will get through this,” Constantine said. “Our entire government…[is] committed to turning our community to normal as quickly as possible.”
Dr. Jeff Duchin, who is a health officer for Public Health — Seattle & King County, discussed at the gathering updates relating to the Life Care Center in Kirkland, to which several coronavirus cases have been linked.
“This is a very stressful situation for the families and residents of the center, for the loved ones — I want to emphasize how distressing I understand this is,” Duchin said.
He confirmed that this morning, two department-affiliated physicians had been deployed at the center to assess staffing needs and patient status. Further assessment, Duchin said, was ongoing.
He reiterated that the spectrum of illness transmission is unknown as of the conference. He also apologized to the family members of those being cared for at the Life Care facility, from whom he has received emails but hasn’t been able to respond to on an individual basis.
Duchin added that the department is planning to develop a team to ensure that everyone at the facility can be tested for COVID-19. He clarified that the quality or manner of care is not contingent on test results. Whether someone has tested positive for the virus does not entail a specific treatment plan.
Duchin said later in the meeting that his department, while working to ensure that Life Care is sufficiently supported, is not able to directly inspect the sufficiency of operations.
Family members of those being treated at Life Care are recommended to follow the same protocols as the public, with the caveat that if they aren’t immediately symptomatic to be extra attentive to their health over two weeks.
Duchin said that mild and moderate cases don’t require hospitalization or medical care, and encouraged those not experiencing severe symptoms refrain from going to the emergency room, instead contacting health care providers to determine next courses of action.
Regarding the recent confirmation of there being 20-somethings hospitalized with coronavirus, Duchin said it was “definitely concerning,” and that the department is looking closely at the situation.
Relating to the Department of Health’s coronavirus “hotline,” which has been experiencing problems, Duchin said that the call center is overwhelmed and is working with different entities to triage responses.
He said he and others are reassessing how to prioritize communication with families who have loved ones who are affected or potentially affected by the virus.
Patty Hayes, director of Public Health — Seattle & King County, shared measures meant to slow the spread of the virus. She clarified that the measures are recommendations rather than mandates.
It is being advised that people determined to be vulnerable (e.g., compromised immune systems, those 60 and over, those with underlying medical conditions) try to stay home and keep away from large groups as much as possible.
Hayes reiterated Constantine’s recommendation of telecommuting maximization while adding that employers should try to stagger start and end times for employees to reduce mass transit use, for example. Another recommendation was to consider postponing large group gatherings.
Officials are still advocating against school closures. Children, unless with a compromised immune system, have not been shown to be an especially at-risk group. Additionally, it has been found that during past pandemics, such as the H1N1 outbreak of 2009, school closures resulted in more disruption.
Hayes noted that the recommendation can change, for example, if there is a confirmed case within a school, and that the Department of Health respects every school’s individual decision about closure or postponement of activity.
Hayes restated previously shared best hygienic practices as well.
Dr. Kathy Lofy, who is a state health officer for the Washington State Department of Health, shared that within the last 24 hours, the federal government had “relaxed” criteria about who can be tested for coronavirus, which had previously been limited to those who had traveled to an affected country, who had been sick or hospitalized and/or who had been in close contact with someone infected, for example.
Now, essentially, basically anyone who has symptoms that are consistent with the virus can be tested, Lofy said. As testing capacity expands, Lofy said, people with mild symptoms will increasingly have access.
Lofy said the department is working hard to increase testing capacity in Washington. At the Shoreline testing site, the department is able to test about 100 people a day (or 200 specimens). She noted that the department is purchasing new equipment — arriving either today (March 4) or tomorrow — and that the department is working with community lab partners to add testing capacity.
Testing at the University of Washington, which was previously announced at a March 2 press conference, is expected to ramp up in upcoming days, Lofy said.
For more information about the coronavirus, go online to https://www.kingcounty.gov/depts/health.aspx.