“I was pleased to hear from the director of the CDC yesterday that he thinks Washington state has the best public health system in the nation. And we’ve been seeing it at work. … There are many Washingtonians working at the state and local levels who deserve our thanks for putting us in a position to be able to say that.”
— Gov. Jay Inslee, during a news conference Thursday at the State Capitol in Olympia
Cross your fingers — then wash your hands for good measure — that the early praise that the governor shared regarding the response to the Covid-19 coronavirus outbreak in this state holds for the duration of the crisis.
With testing just now ramping up and uncertainty still about how widespread the disease is, it’s far too early in the outbreak to declare success, but there is hope that with continued vigilance a broader epidemic can be avoided and the virus’ transmission among the larger population can be contained.
With that hope there’s reason to note the dedication and the work shown among those on the front lines of the response in Snohomish and King counties and throughout the state, including public health staff, health care and emergency medical professionals, state and local officials, but also the state’s residents who have reacted to calls to take the potential threat seriously yet remain calm.
Among examples of quick attention:
Emergency declarations have been made at the county and state level, procedures that ease requirements for the release of funds and purchase of needed supplies.
In less than a week, state lawmakers quickly and in bipartisan agreement, allocated $100 million yesterday for the state’s Covid-19 response, when it became obvious that an earlier proposal for $5 million to $10 million wouldn’t be nearly enough.
Likewise there’s been quick action led by the state’s Congressional delegation to deliver an immediate $11.5 million in federal funding to aid the response in the state and bipartisan action in Congress to pass an $8.3 billion package for the national response.
At the same news conference, state Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler announced he had ordered health insurance providers in the state to cover the cost of copays and deductibles for Covid-19 testing when recommended by doctors, and that the state will pay for testing and treatment of those without insurance. Both actions will ensure that those who might have the disease aren’t forced by tight finances to skip tests and treatment, increasing the risk for exposing others.
The calls for public action have been sober and clear, including repeated advice to wash hands often; cover coughs and sneezes; avoid touching mouth, nose and eyes; and recommending “social distancing,” limiting exposure by avoiding large gatherings, working from home and staying home when sick, even if it’s likely a common cold or flu.
Decisions on closure of schools and cancellation of events are being left at the local level for now, as a balance is sought between protecting public health and limiting the disruption that would follow across-the-board closures.
There have been gaps in the safety net, to be sure. While the CDC director’s praise of the state and county-level public health agencies, such as Snohomish Health District, is deserved, those agencies have struggled with inadequate state funding since the Great Recession. It’s only resolute dedication among those agencies’ employees and leaders that have assured the current level of response.
At the federal level, earlier funding and program cuts to the Centers from Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institutes of Health by the Trump administration have slowed the roll-out of Covid-19 testing and other nationwide preparation and response.
Still, testing kits are arriving, with up to 4 million kits available soon nationwide, said U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen, who with nine of the 10 members of the state’s Congressional delegation, the governor and other officials, met Thursday afternoon with Vice President Mike Pence at Camp Murray in Tacoma. Pence, leading the Trump administration’s Covid-19 response, brought with him the first shipment from a national stockpile of a supply of face masks, respirators and other medical equipment requested by the state.
The testing kits are vital to the response, Larsen said, even as they will reveal even more cases of the new virus.
“The true extent of the spread of coronavirus might be concerning,” he said. “But to target the response we have to know.”
Larsen also emphasized the importance of setting aside the usual party politics as federal, state and local governments confront the outbreak.
“Covid-19 doesn’t care what party you are,” Larsen said.
The Covid-19 crisis could take months to resolve. More infections are a certainty, as are difficult decisions on further steps to limit its spread.
But the leadership demonstrated thus far, as well as the public’s reaction, shows the praise for the response in Washington state is not misplaced.