OLYMPIA — As concern grows about the reach of coronavirus, lawmakers are looking to spend as much as $10 million preparing for a potential outbreak and limiting the spread of the contagion among the state’s population.
The money, contained in budget proposals in the state House and Senate, would cover expenses associated with the coronavirus outbreak incurred by the state Department of Health and local health authorities, like the Snohomish Health District, which are on the front line of the public response to this mysterious illness.
“We wanted to put a significant amount of money in there to assure the public that the state is taking it seriously,” said Rep. June Robinson, D-Everett, a member of the House budget-writing team.
Whether the amount will be enough is unknown.
“We have no idea,” she said. “We have no idea how widespread the coronavirus will be.”
The state Senate approved a supplemental budget Thursday containing $10 million, of which $8.6 million would be for local health districts and the rest for the Department of Health. The original Senate budget had $5 million in it.
“We decided to double it and be sure they have what they need,” said Sen. Christine Rolfes, D-Bainbridge Island, chairwoman of the Senate Ways and Means Committee. “I wanted to be prepared.”
Meanwhile, the House budget, which was to be debated Friday, has $5 million in the state’s disaster response account for dealing with the virus, known as COVID-19. It’s likely the two chambers will settle on the higher figure.
Federal dollars are expected to become available at some point, too.
On Jan. 21, the first case of Wuhan coronavirus was reported in the United States. It was a Snohomish County man in his 30s who traveled to China. He was treated at Providence Regional Medical Center Everett, and later released.
Since the news broke, it has been a long stretch for many of the 120-person staff of the Snohomish Health District.
As of Friday, the district’s costs had reached $150,000. Most of it is due to an estimated 1,250 extra hours put in by employees. The tab is expected to rise because of ongoing education and prevention efforts, and monitoring of people potentially exposed to the virus.
“The ability to get resources from the state is huge,” said district spokeswoman Heather Thomas. “We’re also hopeful that federal appropriations will flow to locals as well.
“We had about a quarter of our agency wrapped into this in some capacity, and 10 or 15 are still working on this daily,” she said. “We’ve had over 40 travelers in Snohomish County who have come through Sea-Tac (International Airport) that are flagged so we do followup monitoring for the 14 days.”
As of Thursday, the Department of Health had tallied $1,827,600 in coronavirus response-related expenses since Jan. 21. That’s when the state incident management team was activated.
The Seattle-King County Department of Public Health reported $1.25 million in expenses between Jan. 21 and Feb. 12, according to a report compiled by the state.
Also this week, the state Senate voted to pump $3 million into the economic development strategic reserve account, which is administered by the governor. Those dollars, senators hope, will be used to assist businesses suffering from curtailed trade with China and other countries as a result of virus-related concerns.
“We thank the Senate for proposing to increase the governor’s strategic reserve fund, and we hope the House will adopt that amount in their budget as well,” press secretary Mike Faulk said in an email. “This will support our coronavirus economic retention and recovery efforts by providing additional resources to a proven program for helping businesses.”
Herald Writer Andrea Brown contributed to this report.
Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; email@example.com. Twitter: @dospueblos