By Kari Bray / Snohomish Health District
To our friends and neighbors in Snohomish County:
It’s been six months since the first reported case of COVID-19 in the U.S. was identified here.
A lot has happened.
We are in challenging times, facing a pandemic that has created new problems while amplifying existing hardship for many.
When we had that first case in January, the novel coronavirus was cause for concern but it wasn’t a pandemic. We didn’t have a coronavirus outbreak, just one known patient who took the right steps, sought care, and was isolated at the hospital.
The Health District was already addressing a hepatitis A outbreak. The group at the table – literally at a table in a meeting room, before so many conversations were virtual – expanded to include more staff working to contain a novel virus that didn’t have a name yet. As the weeks went on, the conversation shifted from containment to mitigation, which boils down to this: no one could put a lid on this virus. The new disease was going to keep spreading.
As the emergency response for coronavirus ramped up, many partners stepped up to support Snohomish County and the Health District. There are too many partners to name, and we are thankful for all of the agencies, organizations, businesses, staff, and volunteers who have participated in the response.
Things changed quickly as our community worked together to address the spread of this illness. “Wash your hands and stay home if you’re sick” turned into “wash your hands and stay home except for essential work or errands.” School campuses closed and lessons moved online. Activities were canceled. Businesses and organizations closed in-person operations. Roads and sidewalks were eerily empty.
The proverbial curve flattened. The rising local case count was controlled in time to spare our medical system, while elsewhere in the world and country we saw how devastating an overwhelmed system could be.
Then came the shift to questions about reopening businesses, activities and schools. Those conversations are ongoing, and probably will be for quite some time. Careful reopening efforts are underway. Snohomish County in June moved from Phase 1 to Phase 2 of the Governor’s Safe Start Plan. And now there’s a pause on moving further in the phases because case numbers are ticking up again and we are now well into a second wave of sustained transmission in the community.
Early blog posts on this platform explained why the risk to the general public in the U.S. was considered low at the time, and that this was a rapidly evolving situation. The rapidly evolving part still holds true. Pandemics don’t take perfect, linear, easy-to-follow paths. There will be ups and downs throughout this response, which makes it especially challenging. As we’re seeing now, we can make good progress only to find we need to hit pause again because the virus is circulating.
And as for that whole low-risk piece? That’s certainly not the case anymore. But such is the nature of viruses like this – they are very, very good at getting around.
We are closely monitoring the situation, including case rates, hospital capacity, testing, contact tracing, and risk to vulnerable populations.
We’ve learned throughout this pandemic that we must be cautious, adaptable, as clear as possible about the steps we need to take, and – perhaps most importantly – kind to one another.
A few other things we’ve learned in the last six months:
• There are a number of possible COVID symptoms. It’s not just fever, sore throat, or cough to watch for anymore. Body aches, nausea, diarrhea, fatigue, even loss of taste or smell are all on the list now. This illness doesn’t look the same in everyone.
• Some people don’t even have symptoms. Or they have really mild symptoms. But you can still spread the illness even if you are not symptomatic. Recently, about 85% of positive cases in Snohomish County have been symptomatic, while about 15% have not reported symptoms.
• Cloth face coverings over the mouth and nose help. They trap respiratory droplets that could otherwise carry the virus from one person to another. They’re most useful to protect others around the wearers, not the wearers themselves. So everyone should be wearing one in public; that way, we all protect each other.
• Social distancing, or physical distancing, is part of our vocabulary now. We’ve all probably memorized that six feet is the minimum distance to keep between ourselves and others. And we have a lot of creative ways of measuring that. It’s the wingspan of a bald eagle, or the average length of a llama (from rump to nose), or the full stretch of a personal jump rope.
• Some people are at higher risk of severe illness than others – including people who are over 60 years old and those who have underlying medical conditions like heart, lung, or kidney disease. But anyone can become severely ill, and this illness can be dangerous for the young as well as the old.
There have been other pandemics, and other diseases with pandemic potential. They are part of what public health monitors, prepares for, and helps respond to when the need arises. But this pandemic has had a drastic impact, and there’s been much to learn about COVID-19. It flared into outbreaks, then a crisis that caught the U.S. and other countries in its grip and still refuses to let go.
There are moments that show the strongest parts of humanity. Healthcare workers, first responders, and frontline workers have risked their own safety to keep others safe and well. Emergency response workers, volunteers, donors and leaders have stepped up to make sure people have necessities in a time of economic strain. Educators and parents rallied to teach students through challenges none of them expected. People who missed in-person interactions connected with social groups through virtual means. Crafters made and donated cloth face covers, and businesses began selling a variety of styles – there are options to showcase your favorite fandom, or to have a window of clear plastic so people can see your smile or read your lips.
We’ve also seen dark moments. More than 180 people in Snohomish County have died of this disease. The initial wave of cases came close of overwhelming local hospitals and medical resources. There wasn’t enough personal protective equipment; everyone in the nation needed it at the same time. Many in our community have been out of work for weeks or even months. Small businesses have suffered and unemployment has spiked. We’ve missed out on celebrating important milestones that would usually be marked by gatherings because it isn’t safe to bring too many people together.
People are anxious to get back to normal. Or something that looks closer to normal.
We miss “normal,” too.
We’ve seen and heard your questions, concerns, worries, frustration, anger, and emotional/mental fatigue. We don’t always have answers to the questions, but we’ll keep working on it. As for the concerns and emotions – we share many of them. We want you to be safe and healthy during this pandemic. We also want you to be able to work and learn and see the people you love.
Thank you to all who have made sacrifices to help slow the spread of this virus, whether you are a healthcare worker on the front lines or a community member who decided to cancel a birthday party or stay home from a big Fourth of July barbecue. It takes all of us. We see you, and we are immensely grateful for all you are doing during this crazy time.
We are six months in, and we can’t offer an end date. We don’t want to sound like it’s all doom and gloom, because this county is a place where compassion and resilience are abundant. However, it’s not fair or helpful to sugarcoat it: This fall and winter have the potential to be particularly rough. At this very moment we appear to be in the early stages of a rising second wave that has zero chance of being reversed without changes to our collective behavior.
We can all take steps to keep ourselves and others healthy.
• Avoid gatherings, parties or other get-togethers of any sort. Stick with your household and a maximum of five non-household members as your small, consistent group of social contacts until further notice.
• Going where there will be people other than your household members? Wear a cloth face covering. It’s the kind thing to do. It’s also required by the Governor’s order.
• Not feeling well? Stay home. Seriously. Are you on the fence because your throat only hurts a little, or it’s just the sniffles? Better to be cautious. Stay home.
• See those hands? Wash ‘em. Soap and water. Count to 20 while you scrub.
• Check your purse/pocket/glovebox. Do you have a cloth face cover and hand sanitizer with you when you go out? You should.
• Think about the surfaces you touch most in your home and workplace. Then clean and sanitize them.
• Stay informed. Share reliable information. Don’t spread rumors or false claims. They can be just as contagious as a virus.
• Be kind. Be patient. Be strong.
• Remember that you are not alone. We are in this together.
Check out a timeline of the first six months
The Public Health Essentials! blog highlights the work of the Snohomish Health District and shares health-related information and tips.