Despite the constant downpour of coronavirus news coming out of cities like Kirkland and Renton, it appears the Plateau has yet to be hit in any major way.
Knock on wood.
Here’s a quick recap of the situation, for those who haven’t been able to keep up: the first Washington case of COVID-19, known colloquially as the 2019 Novel Coronavirus, was reported by the CDC on Jan. 21, 2020. Since then, hundreds of Washingtonians have been put under observation in the state; as of the morning of Monday, Feb. 9, there have been 20 deaths, 19 of which were in King County.
Pierce County has yet to experience any deaths, but seven cases or coronavirus have been reported as of March 9.
The elderly and those with underlying medical issues appear to be the most at risk for severe illness and death. Healthcare workers and first responders are also at a high risk of being exposed.
Unfortunately, little is still known about the virus, the Washington state Department of Health has said. Currently, experts are aware that it is spread through “respiratory droplets” — a.k.a. coughing and sneezing — and close contact with infected people (within six feet or less).
Symptoms of the virus include fever, coughing, and breathing difficulties; reported cases have ranged from a mild, cold-like sickness to severe pneumonia. Symptoms can appear as quickly as two days, or as long as two weeks after exposure.
When the virus was first spreading, the World Health Organization first reported the fatality rate of the new coronavirus was 2 percent; that estimate has now risen to 3.4 percent, although that number is expected to change, given the speedy rate in which new cases and deaths are reported.
But for comparison, WHO’s director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has said the seasonal flu kills 0.1 percent of those who are infected, according to The Hill. The Washington state Department of Health reported there were 74 flu deaths during the 2019-2020 season — 68 adults, and 6 children.
FIRST RESPONDER EXPOSURE APPEARS LIMITED
Most of the reported coronavirus incidents in Washington are north of here, which includes the Kirkland Life Care Center, where several firefighters and police officers linked to that outbreak tested positive for the virus.
Luckily, it appears local first responders have had very little, if any, contact with hotspot sites like the Renton Valley Medical Center or the Highline Medical Center, where infected patients drove themselves to be treated.
“We very rarely transport someone to Renton,” said Enumclaw Fire and Rescue Chief Randy Fehr, adding that his department has not seen any coronavirus cases in the city as of yet.
If his department does receive a call from someone reporting the symptoms of the virus, Fehr said the Washington state Health Department has instructed first responders to initially leave the patient at home while the patient calls the coronavirus call center at 206-477-3977, which can help better establish whether they may be infected.
If the patient is determined to likely have been exposed and are showing signs of needing medical care, first responders are then to transport them to four specific hospitals — Harborview Medical Center, Virginia Mason Hospital, Seattle Children’s Hospital, and EvergreenHealth Medical Center. At the moment, patients will not be transported to St. Elizabeth Hospital, which has not reported any cases of coronavirus.
Like Enumclaw, Mountain View Fire and Rescue appears to have had very little exposure with hotspot sites. According to Fire Chief Greg Smith, his department uses private ambulances, like Tri-Med and American Medical Response (AMR), to transport patients to hospitals.
At the moment, there seems to be no indication the Enumclaw or White River school districts will be closing down or events being canceled, which includes sport events.
According to the March 2 Enumclaw School Board workshop minutes, Superintendent Mike Nelson informed those present that there have been several phone calls and messages made to the district over the last several days, adding that his staff are being proactive in “ordering cleaning and disinfecting supplies” for all school buildings, and have instructed custodial staff to disinfect daily.
“At this time, there is no need to close any of our schools,” the minutes read. “The district will continue to promote safe and sanitary behaviors of frequent hand washing and proper covering of sneezes and coughs, and encouraging students and staff exhibiting cold or flu-like symptoms with a fever, to stay home. The district will update families if different or further instruction is made available.”
White River School District Assistant Superintendent Mike Hagadone said the district has been monitoring the coronavirus situation in Pierce County.
Hagadone added their cleaning protocols are “as they normally are,” which includes daily deep cleaning, and that all students are reviewing how to properly wash their hands, though they are not stockpiling supplies like their neighbors to the north.
“We’re in a wait-and-see approach,” he continued. “We’re bracing… but we’re not overreacting.”
COMMUNITY SERVICES AND EVENTS
Like local schools, it appears community services and large event organizers on the Plateau are being cautious, but don’t see a need to cancel events or close up shop until the situation is under control at this time.
The Enumclaw Senior Center is being extra cautious, as its clientele look to be some of the most vulnerable.
The center’s director, Jobyna Nickum, said she and her staff have been busy passing out and hanging up flyers about the coronavirus and proper hygiene.
“At this time, we are just encouraging everyone to follow what we call our flu protocol, which is what we announce every fall,” Nickum said. “We just brought it to everyone’s awareness. We’re not encouraging fear or panic, but we want to let you know we’re on top of it and we’ll keep you informed.”
Nickum added that King County has been in contact with the senior center, ensuring her that if the center has to shut down, it will continue to receive county grants for programming.
One of Nickum’s biggest concerns is how seniors will continue to receive hot meals if the senior center comes under quarantine. Catholic Community Services — a statewide nonprofit organization that offers various forms of assistance from housing to addiction — provides the senior center with food, which is then prepared by volunteers and served Monday through Thursday, with a Friday brunch.
However, when Nickum asked CCS about their outbreak policies, the organization replied, “We don’t have a set policy for a pandemic epidemic (sic) if anyone has one please share with us,” which puts into question whether or not the Enumclaw Senior Center, or other senior centers in Washington, will continue to receive food for meals if the outbreak continues or worsens.
Catholic Community Services did not respond to requests for a comment.
Between 30 and 85 people come to eat at the senior center daily, Nickum added.
If it turns out CCS decides to discontinue delivering food to seniors centers during this outbreak, Nickum is sure her community will step up to make sure their seniors are taken care of.
“Enumclaw is a very caring community. If our seniors are asked to stay at home and the senior center is closed… I know this community would step forward, wear masks, and deliver meals to homebound seniors — those not already on the NFN (Neighbors Feeding Neighbors) program,” Nickum said.
The NFN program is the only hot meal delivery program in King and Pierce County, Nickum said, and serves up to 42 seniors; it is jointly run by the senior center and the Rainier Foothills Wellness Center. The center’s director, Jay Thomas, has said the nonprofit expects to continue its services as normal.
The Black Diamond Senior Center and its director, Cheryl Hanson, said they also plan to continue senior programs and keep the food bank open, adding that they’re asking any seniors who think they’re sick to stay home and disinfecting daily.
Similarly, the Plateau Outreach Ministries food bank and thrift store expect to remain open at this time, said Executive Director Elisha Smith-Marshall, and that they’ll close if the local school districts close as well.
She added that not only has P.O.M. been disinfecting every hour, but are also having food bank volunteers wear gloves to pick out fruits and vegetables to give to clients, rather than have clients pick themselves.
As for local events, the Enumclaw Expo Center plans to continue hosting events unless mandated to close; this includes the March 14 PNW Great Outdoors Expo, the March 14 St. Paddy’s Day 5K, the March 19 Samsarafest, and the March 27 2020 Cornhole Conference Cup.
Enumclaw’s Chamber of Commerce also plans to hold the March 28 Spring Beer Walk event.
PREVENTING THE SPREAD OF INFECTION AND RECEIVING AID
Most people are not expected to need to be hospitalized if they’re infected with coronavirus.
“The truth is that 80 percent of people that contract coronavirus aren’t going to go to a hospital,” Chief Fehr said. “To them, it’s just going to seem like a really bad cold.”
But to prevent spreading it around, officials are urging people who believe they’re infected to stay home if their symptoms are manageable, and the CDC recommends buying a face mask when you are around other people and pets, as it’s still unknown how the virus could affect animals. Those who are not sick are encouraged to not buy masks, as they do little to prevent being infected.
As of March 4, King County recommended people who may be infected to call the coronavirus call center at 206-477-3977, which is open 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Callers can expect to be asked about their symptoms and for how long they’ve had them, and whether they’ve recently traveled or have been exposed to a known hotspot or infectious source.
If symptoms are not manageable, like having difficulty breathing, the CDC recommends you call a local urgent care or emergency department before you arrive so staff can adequately protect themselves and other patients. However, King County has officially recommended that people “not go to the emergency room unless essential.”
Those who are in life-threatening situations should call 911.