COVID-19 update: Restaurants, child care, small businesses

Public Health Essentials! A blog by the Snohomish Health District.

Snohomish Health District

Snohomish Health District

By Kari Bray / Snohomish Health District

Additional measures have been announced to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Snohomish County and Washington state.

The rapidly changing nature of this pandemic response is raising questions and creating hardships for the people of Snohomish County. We feel these hardships, too. We are committed to providing accurate information to our community. We appreciate everyone who is staying informed, following the health orders, and taking steps to keep themselves, friends, family and neighbors healthy.

Restaurants, bars, entertainment and recreation facilities

Dr. Chris Spitters, health officer for the Snohomish Health District, issued a local Health Officer Order for Snohomish County today that parallels Governor Jay Inslee’s proclamations on March 16, 2020. These work in tandem to temporarily shut down restaurants, bars, and entertainment and recreation facilities. However, restaurants may continue to provide take-out and delivery. The order remains in effect for two weeks, but may be extended.

The order also prohibits gatherings of 50 people or more, and gatherings with fewer than 50 people must meet public health and social distancing requirements. For the requirements that are in effect for Snohomish County, please see the bullet point list in the social distancing section of our last blog post.

Grocery stores and pharmacies are allowed to continue operations. Child care, banks, convenience stores, and school food programs also are among the activities that are allowed to continue under this order.

However, the order does shut down on-site restaurant dining, food courts, bars and taverns, tasting venues, doughnut shops, ice cream parlors, coffee shops, theaters, bowling alleys, fitness centers, non-tribal card rooms, museums, art galleries, tattoo parlors, and hair and nail salons.

The goal of these measures is to reduce the spread of this illness in the community, and it is vital that people follow them.

That said, we are not blind to the blow that businesses are taking. We encourage people to support local businesses as they are able. Consider ordering take-out or delivery from local eateries or checking out online or phone options being offered by local businesses. A fund has also been set up to help with the impacts of COVID-19 in Snohomish County, and people can donate at www.cf-sc.org.

Child care

At this time, child cares have not been advised or required to close. We’ve been asked why child cares remain open if schools are required to close. The Snohomish Health District is strongly encouraging parents and guardians who can keep their children home at this time to do so. Keeping children at home, hiring a nanny or babysitter to provide one-to-one care, or sharing care responsibilities with other parents in groups of no more than two or three children will help reduce the risk of spreading this disease.

As for why child cares are open, class sizes in child cares tend to be relatively small and child care facilities are generally smaller than schools. Child cares also play a crucial role in ensuring that those who cannot work remotely still have a safe place for their children. Many people who are critical to this pandemic response – including first responders, dispatchers, and health care workers – are not able to work remotely.

However, child care providers must be able to meet health and safety requirements. A few highlights of those requirements are: excluding sick employees from work; sending sick children home; meeting all CDC recommended cleaning and disinfecting procedures; and ensuring proper hand hygiene and sanitation are readily available to all children and staff.

Child care providers also may make individual decisions to close due to staffing or health issues, or they may need to close if a staff member or child becomes ill with COVID-19. We are encouraging child care providers to talk to families about the possibility of long-term closures and to make plans for their business. They also should look at closing temporarily if they cannot staff their child care without employees who are part of a high-risk group, which includes people who are 60 or older, people who have underlying medical conditions or weakened immune systems, and pregnant women.

Again, parents who can keep their children home are strongly urged to do so. With schools and businesses closed, it is crucial that child care is prioritized for those who cannot work from home or stay home from work for an extended period of time. If a portion of families can keep their children at home, it also reduces the group size in child care settings, which minimizes the potential for exposure. Minimizing the risk of exposure in child care plays an essential role in keeping our first responders and health care providers healthy, as well.

Social distancing (maintaining at least 6 feet of space aside from momentary or minimal contact) is not realistic in large groups of young children. Smaller groups reduce the risk of spreading illness and make it more manageable for child care providers to keep up with health needs like monitoring for symptoms, encouraging children not to touch their own or each others’ hands and faces, and frequent cleaning and sanitizing of surfaces and objects.

Suspension of in-person services at Snohomish Health District

Starting at noon on Monday, March 16, the Snohomish Health District has temporarily closed in-person services.

Businesses and organizations in our community are being required to ensure social distancing and other health measures in their operations. It is important that the District does the same. The closure of the front counter reduces person-to-person contact and lessens the risk for staff and the public.

Services being impacted include:

Customer service counter located on the first floor of 3020 Rucker Ave. will no longer be open for in-person birth and death certificates, water testing, permit application submittals, payments, etc.

Quality improvement clinic visits by the Vaccine Preventable Disease team have been suspended, and Vaccine for Children compliance clinic visits will continue on a case by case basis.

Maternal child health programs, including WIC, are continuing via telehealth, not through in-person or home visits.

The Viral Hepatitis Outreach program has suspended all off-site outreach, including jail and community-based testing.

Sexually transmitted disease (STD) testing and investigations have limited response capacity and clients should anticipate delays.

Online and phone services will continue, as well as inspections and permit reviews. For birth and death certificates, visit www.snohd.org/vital-records or call 425-339-5290. Permit applications, online payments, inspection results and other services also are available at www.snohd.org. People can also call 425-339-5250 for questions about permits, payments, and other environmental health services normally provided at the front counter.

Help for businesses and workers

This virus and the steps being taken to reduce its spread have already had a large impact on our businesses. We know that many employees are out of work temporarily due to illness, quarantine requirements, or because their workplace closed under the news rules or due to a dramatic decrease in business tied to COVID-19.

The Employment Security Department has expanded benefits for workers impacted by COVID-19. Details on who is eligible for benefits are available from the Employment Security Department. The department also has a Q&A for workers and businesses.

The Small Business Administration may be able to provide assistance through Economic Injury Disaster Loans. More information on that is available at this link.

Take only what you need

People in Snohomish County have been stepping up to help, and we appreciate it. One key way we can continue to help is to make sure we are taking only what we need when stocking up on supplies.

In short: Leave some for your neighbors.

We always encourage people to make sure their household is prepared with food, water, medical supplies and other essentials for each member of the household for at least 14 days. Ideally, this emergency kit would be stocked even during times when there is no immediate emergency.

We understand that people want to make sure they are filling the gaps in their emergency supplies. However, this is not the time to empty store shelves of hand sanitizer or toilet paper. Buy what you need for your household, but remember that others need resources, too, and we can support our community by making sure we are not hoarding important supplies.

The Public Health Essentials! blog highlights the work of the Snohomish Health District and shares health-related information and tips.

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