By Kari Bray / Snohomish Health District
In order to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19), Washingtonians have been told to stay home except for essential services or errands.
We cannot stress enough the importance of following those rules. We know that these are unprecedented measures during unprecedented times.
We also know that essential workers are putting in tremendous effort to make sure core services remain available. This includes our healthcare workers, first responders, and the many staff who support them in the field and at hospitals, clinics and long-term care facilities. They are on the front lines of this pandemic.
The essential workforce includes a number of other crucial businesses and agencies. We won’t touch on all of them in this blog, but we want to go over a few of the areas where the public can help support workers now. These include public transit, grocery stores and pharmacies, and delivery.
Many of these teams are stretched thin. Taking the right steps as an employer means that sick workers and those at high risk of severe illness are staying home. There may also be workers under quarantine or isolation because they were in close contact with a confirmed case, are waiting on test results, or have tested positive. The people who are working at essential jobs are often putting in long hours during difficult times.
One of the best ways to help keep workers healthy is to stay home except for necessary outings. And when we do go out for the necessities, there are steps we can take to minimize the risk of spreading illness.
This is the time for patience and compassion. Crowding other people, rushing to finish errands, or blaming workers for circumstances beyond their control will not aid in easing the strain this pandemic has put on our community.
Let’s talk a bit about some of the essential services and the steps we can take to help.
Healthcare Workers and First Responders
If you know a healthcare worker or first responder, you likely know how much this pandemic has impacted them.
Healthcare workers need to be able to focus on urgent needs. This means many non-urgent medical appointments have been canceled or rescheduled. Doing everything in your power to keep yourself healthy and using tele-health services (phone or online appointments) to interact with medical providers for non-urgent issues are two ways to help. We don’t want to discourage medical care – there are many reasons aside from COVID-19 that people need to talk to or see their physicians. However, be understanding of the demands on your medical provider and as flexible with your scheduling as you are able.
If you want to report a business or organization that is in violation of health orders, do not call 911. Go to coronavirus.wa.gov/business-workers to clarify whether a business is considered essential under “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” or to report a violation. If you do have to call 911 for an emergency and someone in your household has tested positive or has symptoms of COVID-19, notify the dispatcher.
Personal protective equipment (PPE) has become one of the most sought-after resources during the response to COVID-19. It’s also a scarce resource due to the high demand nationally and internationally.
While the Health District and Snohomish County Department of Emergency Management are working on PPE requests with first responders, hospitals, long-term care facilities and others, there is not enough to fulfill every request.
Two donation sites are now open in Snohomish County where you can drop off new, unopened PPE. These locations, currently open through April 3, are: Willis Tucker Park (Administration Building, 6705 Puget Park Drive, Snohomish) and Haller Park (Stillaguamish Conference Room, 154 W Cox Street, Arlington). Hours are 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Thursday, and 9 a.m. to noon Friday.
Donations accepted include unopened and unused N95 masks, surgical masks, surgical gowns, medical gloves, medical safety glasses, medical face shields, Tyvek suits, hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes. The locations will not be able to accept non-PPE donations, used PPE, food, drink, perishable items or money. Handmade PPE donations will be accepted at the Haller Park location only.
To donate financially to the coronavirus relief fund for Snohomish County, visit https://www.cf-sc.org.
Public transit is no more or less safe than other public places during this time. Local transit agencies have stepped up to make sure illness prevention and social distancing requirements are in place. Where needed, they have modified or reduced services. They are keeping up with regular cleaning and disinfecting as well as making sure employees have access to proper hand hygiene, are distancing from others as much as possible, and are not coming to work ill.
Transit is an essential service. We’re in this together, and we need to ensure that people can access other critical locations like grocery stores, pharmacies, food banks or hospitals. Other critical workers rely on transit to get to and from their job. People can help support transit agencies’ efforts to keep them safe and healthy by:
• Only using transit for essential trips
• Social distancing while at stops or on vehicles
• Staying home, even from essential jobs or errands like grocery shopping, if they are sick
• Washing their hands frequently and thoroughly and sanitizing high-touch surfaces in their home or workplace to reduce the overall spread of the virus in our community.
Delivery has become key during social distancing.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there is low risk of spread from packages that are shipped to people over a period of days or weeks. People should not be afraid to bring packages into their home. Wash hands after handling items and avoid touching your face with unwashed hands – the same illness prevention steps we encourage throughout the day.
However, we want to keep delivery drivers and customers safe. That means delivery drivers should leave packages in a mailbox, on a porch, or where designated for delivery. This is not the time to hand people packages directly. If you see or hear a delivery at your door, let the worker leave the package and wait until they are at least 6 feet away before going out to pick it up.
The same goes for food delivery or take-out. If you call a restaurant or order online, you may be provided with specific instructions on how to properly pick up your meal. Please follow these instructions. This may involve someone setting the packaged meal down and walking away before you go to pick it up.
Try to limit your grocery shopping to once a week or less frequently, or use delivery or curbside pick-up when possible. Check out your local grocery store online or give them a call to see what options they have. Many businesses have taken steps to increase delivery or pick-up.
If you do go into a grocery store or another essential business like a pharmacy, maintain a distance of six feet from other people as much as possible. Many stores have started having special hours for seniors to shop. They also have signage and tape to show where to wait and maintain distance. Please respect all of these precautions.
Have one person from your household go into the store if at all possible. Consider offering to pick up items and drop them off on the doorsteps of friends and neighbors who are in a high-risk category (60 or older, have an underlying health condition, or currently pregnant) to make sure they don’t have to go into the store.
The need for keeping distance in stores means it will likely take longer to get through a shopping trip. It can be frustrating to wait while someone browses the shelf, but this is not the time to encroach on other people’s space or lean around them to grab that box of pasta. Come prepared for a longer trip.
Space yourself out from others at the checkout line, and avoid paying with cash if you can use the card reader to reduce close contact with workers at checkout. You can also look for opportunities to use digital payment, like Google Pay or Apple Pay, where available.
There is no evidence that COVID-19 is spreading through take-out orders or groceries. This is a good time to support your local businesses. You should always wash your hands thoroughly when you get home after grocery shopping, but there’s no need to disinfect groceries aside from the usual rinsing of items like fresh produce.
Thank you to everyone who is staying informed and taking steps to stay healthy as well as keep their friends, family and neighbors healthy. By staying home and away from others aside from necessary work or errands, we can all help reduce the spread of this illness and save lives. Support those around you, including our essential workers.
And thank you to all of the essential workers who are putting in long days and nights to make sure we have access to the necessities during an immensely challenging time. There are many more essential workers who were not specifically mentioned in this post. We know you are doing crucial work, and we appreciate you. We couldn’t get through this without you.
The Public Health Essentials! blog highlights the work of the Snohomish Health District and shares health-related information and tips.