It’s not an easy balance to strike — especially when dealing with something as serious as public health — to call for a calm, measured and careful response to a communicable disease that still isn’t well understood, as is the case with the covid-19 coronavirus.
Even trying to get across the message, “Don’t panic,” invites people to wonder if there is reason for greater concern, which might explain this weekend’s packed parking lots at Costco and other stores and the run on hand sanitizer, face masks and bottled water.
The panic purchases of face masks illustrates the point well. The U.S. Surgeon General has had to plead with the public, telling people in a tweet Saturday: “Seriously people — STOP BUYING MASKS.” The shortage caused by the hoarding of masks, which aren’t effective for preventing transmission for people who are healthy, means fewer available for health care professionals and the sick who do need them.
The level of uncertainty about the appropriate response to the situation has only increased in the last 24 to 48 hours, following reports of nearly 20 confirmed cases of the disease in the state, including the deaths of six people in King County, the first such deaths reported in the United States.
The disease is proving to have a long incubation period, meaning its spread may have gone undetected in the state for several weeks. That slow, quiet growth for the disease means the number of cases in the state is likely to increase in coming days.
So, now seems like a good time to remind everyone to take a few moments to think ahead, prepare and respond calmly and rationally. (Below, find tips and information from the Snohomish Health District.)
Key to that response is consulting trusted sources of information. Look for local, regional and national media outlets that are getting their information from knowledgeable and trustworthy health experts and officials, from the Snohomish Health District on up to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization.
At the same time, there’s need for state lawmakers, even as they near the end of their session this year, to make sure more than adequate funding has been provided for the state and local response to covid-19.
Just last week, lawmakers in the state House and Senate were considering an allocation of up to $10 million, funding that would help the state Department of Health and the county-level health districts respond to the outbreak. As of Friday, the Snohomish Health District had spent about $150,000 on its response, most of that for staff overtime and supplies, while the state Health Department had spent more than $1.8 million in its response.
Considering the expected escalation of the disease and the response to it, that $10 million would be exhausted quickly.
By Monday, state Secretary of Health John Wiseman told state lawmakers that statewide spending on the disease totaled $3.5 million; about $2.3 million spent by the state; the rest spent by health districts. Wiseman asked lawmakers for $100 million for the department and local health agencies for the current budget cycle, which runs through mid-2021.
Snohomish Health District and its sister agencies throughout the state will have no choice but to respond to these outbreaks, meaning that those districts’ other responsibilities to protect public health could go underfunded, unless ample funding from the state and federal governments is provided. We’ll repeat our support for legislation that would impose a modest tax on the more-than-required surpluses gathered by the state’s health insurance companies to provide additional funding to public health agencies in the state.
Everett Mayor Cassie Franklin, speaking late Monday afternoon during a special meeting of the Snohomish Health Board, emphasized the importance of a community-wide response to contain the outbreak.
“We’re focused on preparedness and prevention, and that’s what we need our families, businesses and residents to be focused on,” she said.
The best way to save lives and hold down the costs of response, of course, is to do what we can to check the spread of the disease by limiting the dissemination of incorrect information, staying home when we’re sick, skipping the handshakes, covering our coughs and washing our hands.
The Snohomish Health District has offered these basic tips for limiting exposure to the covid-19 coronavirus:
Wash hands often with warm water and soap for at least 20 seconds. Hand sanitizer is a good substitute when washing hands isn’t possible.
Keep hands away from mouth, nose or eyes to avoid transferring germs.
Clean and disinfect counters, light switches, doorknobs, remotes and other frequently used surfaces like.
Cover coughs and sneezes with a tissue, then throw the tissue away and wash your hands.
If you feel sick, stay home from work, school or other activities.
Avoid close contact with others. Bump fists or elbows rather than shaking hands, for example.
If the outbreak widens — as some expect it to — be prepared to respond to limit situations in which the virus can be transmitted:
Have child care and other plans in place in case of school closures, workplace closures, or cancellation of other public events.
Ask your employer about working remotely; employers should make plans to provide that option to employees.
It’s a good idea to have on hand an emergency supply of nonperishable food, water, personal hygiene needs, prescriptions and other medical supplies, enough to last about 14 days.
Make plans to have a separate room available if someone in your household becomes ill.
Find more information from the Snohomish Health District at www.snohd.org/484/Novel-Coronavirus-2019.